Bill targeting transgender athletes moves in Senate despite pushback
Sen. Kelli Stargel. Image via Colin Hackley.

Stargel says the proposal is less onerous for trans athletes than what's currently in place.

As many states consider whether to restrict transgender women’s ability to play in women’s sports, a Florida Senate panel gave its approval for its take on the controversial measure.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel said her “Promoting Equality of Athletic Opportunity Act” (SB 2012) is meant to protect “the integrity of female sports.” Transgender women and girls would be able to play in female sports between the elementary and collegiate levels if they declare their gender as female and maintain low testosterone levels.

To compete in the female category, a student who has identified themselves as a transgender woman would have to maintain testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter for 12 months, confirmed monthly, before her first competition. The athlete would also be required to maintain levels beneath that threshold throughout the competition.

That’s similar to the 5 nanomoles per liter standard used in international sports with the goal of green-lighting transgender women who have completed their transition to play with biological females. Hialeah Republican Sen. Manny Díaz called it a scientific approach to a controversial question.

Stargel’s proposed rules would affect the Florida High School Athletic Association’s standard, which calls for a hearing before a committee of doctors and administrators. That approach is ambiguous, she told the Senate Education Committee.

“The rules that they have in place to me I think are much more damaging to a student, who has to go through a process, fill out a form, go before a committee and explain their transgenderness to a committee to determine whether they truly are transgender or whether they’re pretending to be transgender, whatever that means,” Stargel said.

But Democrats — particularly West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones, who is openly gay — said the proposal alone is hurtful, even if not intended to do harm.

“I challenge all of you that if this was your child that you had to legislate for, how would you vote, yes or no?” Jones implored the committee. “And don’t say that it will never happen, because when it does, the question still remains, what would be your vote, and I ask that you think that through first.”

Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky said she would gladly welcome a transgender athlete onto her daughter’s team.

“If she missed out on the spot, then she wasn’t good enough — my daughter — and she’d have to get better or do whatever she had to do,” Polsky said.

But St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson said the committee needed to think about those competing against and losing to transgender women.

“Think about the other team,” Hutson said. “The other team probably doesn’t want that.”

Proponents cite a case in Connecticut in which two transgender runners took the first two places in a race as an example of transgender women upstaging biological females. Additionally, proponents say, the bill could protect biological women in contact sports.

Religious groups issued their support for the measure while families of transgender students, and teachers, signaled their opposition.

The House version, dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” (HB 1475) and carried by Lake Placid Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck, is more restrictive against transgender women. Tuck’s version would reserve female high school athletic teams for biological women and girls, excluding transgender women from competition.

Under that proposal, a health care provider can verify the student’s gender by completing a routine sports physical examination confirming the “student’s reproductive anatomy, the student’s genetic makeup or the student’s normal endogenously produced testosterone levels.”

Stargel’s bill next heads to the Senate Health Policy Committee. Tuck’s awaits a hearing in the House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee.

Both versions would take effect in July.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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