Sex & Gender

Advocates Say Florida's Transgender Student Athlete Ban Will Harm Trans Kids

Supporters of the National Center for Transgender Equality march in front of the White House in October 2018.
Supporters of the National Center for Transgender Equality march in front of the White House in October 2018. Photo by Elvert Barnes/FlickrCC
The Florida House of Representatives has passed a bill to ban female transgender student athletes from participating in women's sports — a move transgender advocates say will do further harm to an already marginalized community.

On Wednesday, Florida legislators passed House Bill 1475, also known as the Fairness in Women's Sports Act. The bill prohibits public colleges and K-12 schools from allowing transgender girls to play on sports teams designated for females. The move would preclude those transgender students from playing on teams that match their gender identity.

The bill makes no mention of transgender boys playing on male sports teams.

If a competitor or someone else calls an athlete's sex into question, that student must submit to a genetic test, a testosterone level test, or an examination of their "reproductive anatomy" by a healthcare provider and submit a statement from that provider to the school, according to the bill language.

The legislation also allows any student who feels a transgender girl has deprived them of an athletic opportunity to sue their school for damages, including for any "psychological, emotional, or physical harm suffered."

A companion bill in the Florida Senate must pass before the measure becomes law.

The bills come amid a wave of legislation targeting transgender athletes introduced by conservatives in Florida and across the U.S. Supporters of those laws argue that transgender girls have an unfair advantage in sports and that cisgender girls are losing athletic opportunities owing to competition from transgender athletes.

Transgender advocates in South Florida say the bill further discriminates against a community that already faces victimization and trauma.

"Instead of helping the most marginalized and most victimized people to live a better life, they're attacked," says Tony Lima, chief operating officer of Arianna's Center, a Fort Lauderdale organization that provides services for transgender women of color.

Transgender people have a higher suicide risk overall compared to cisgender people, according to a 2020 study by the National Institute for Biotechnology Information. In a national survey of transgender youth, the nonprofit Trevor Project found that 60 percent of transgender and gender-nonbinary youth engaged in self-harm and that 40 percent had seriously considered suicide, partly because of discrimination and a lack of mental-health services.

In an email to New Times, Trevor Project advocacy fellow Casey Pick said that when transgender youth have at least one space where their gender identity is accepted, such as a sports team or at school, their risk of attempting suicide drops by 25 percent.

"The Trevor Project is here 24/7 to support transgender and nonbinary youth in Florida and across the country who feel attacked by these misguided policies," Pick writes. "HB 1475 is extreme, unnecessary, and illegal. You cannot discriminate against someone on the basis of their gender identity."

Lima says HB 1475, and particularly its provision requiring students to submit to an examination of their reproductive organs, is both harmful and misled.

"That's horrifying, inhumane, and completely ridiculous," Lima argues. "Genitals do not identify gender identity. We have to pay attention to how they identify themselves."

Jaime Jara, who lives in Kissimmee with her 9-year-old transgender daughter, Dempsey, tells New Times her family had been following the bill as it moved through the Florida House. News of its passage devastated their household.

"Dempsey broke down and started crying," Jara says. "She told me, 'I don't understand why these people hate me so much.'"

Jara says Dempsey, who's in third grade, wants to follow in her older brother's footsteps and join a cross-country team when she's older. If the Florida bill becomes law, Jara says, her daughter won't be able to pursue that dream. The Jaras have considered moving out of Florida to make life easier for Dempsey.

"It's distressing for me and her father and her brothers. We already feel we have to protect her from the world as it is, and this legislation just targets her even more. She just wants to be a normal kid," Jara says.

Jara finds the language that could require her daughter to submit to a medical examination particularly appalling.

"I'm not subjecting my child to genital inspections. I'm not gonna have her privacy be invaded," Jara says.

Conservative lawmakers argue that transgender girls have higher levels of testosterone, which gives them an unfair edge in sports over cisgender girls.

But geneticist Eric Vilain told NPR last month that higher testosterone levels are only somewhat associated with better performance in a few sports, and that transgender girls overall do not win more often than other girls. Transgender advocates say the bill is a solution to a problem that does not exist, since there has not been widespread evidence that female athletes have been disadvantaged by transgender girls in sports.

Democrats in the Florida House offered a slew of amendments to reduce the scope of the bill, all of which were struck down by their Republican counterparts. One amendment sought to narrow the requirements to schools at the high school level and above, allowing transgender girls in elementary and middle schools to participate on female sports teams. Advocates say prepubescent children have no issues with a level playing field because they haven't fully developed and that barring transgender children from sports is unnecessary.

"This is a solution in search of a problem," asserts Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida. "There is no problem with trans youth participating in sports in kindergarten."

Saunders argues that on top of the risk to sensitive transgender youth, the bill may have unintended economic consequences for the state.

In 2016, Disney, AMC, and Marvel threatened to pull out of Georgia if the state enacted a law that allowed faith-based organizations to discriminate against transgender people. In 2017, an Associated Press analysis found that a North Carolina bill that required transgender people to use public restrooms associated with their sex at birth would cost the state billions of dollars in lost business, including from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

"This threatens the economic recovery of our state," Saunders says of the new Florida bill. "There is a long record now of what happens when state legislatures pass anti-LGBTQ laws. Conventions leave, sports tournaments are canceled, and businesses choose not to relocate to the state."

Earlier this week, in light of the many bills targeting transgender athletes across the nation, the NCAA released a statement saying it would only hold championship college sports competitions in locations where athletes would be safe and free from discrimination. The NCAA has an existing policy of accepting transgender athletes, including transgender women, in collegiate sports.The NCAA also contends that arguments that transgender women have competitive advantages over cisgender women are not based in scientific evidence, according to its policy guidebook.

The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request from New Times asking how HB 1475 might affect its decision to hold championships in Florida.

Now that the measure has passed in the state House, all eyes are on the Senate, where a similar bill awaits a committee ruling.

In a statement to media, Stephen Gaskill, president of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, said the LGBTQ+ community will fight to stop the bill in the Senate to prevent it from becoming law.

"The Republican-controlled Florida House continues to embarrass our state, insult our citizens, and attack marginalized Floridians for political gain," he said. "Our community thanks the Democrats who fought for the dignity of our transgender students. We will take this fight to the Senate.”
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos

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