A ban on transgender athletes came back from the presumed dead in the form of a last-minute amendment. Both chambers supported the amendment and the underlying bill Wednesday night. The issue now rests on the Governor’s desk.
If Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the measure, it would take effect July 1.
The amendment, which passed mostly along party lines in both chambers, establishes the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. The law would keep transgender athletes from participating in women’s and girls’ sports.
Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck added the late filed amendment to a bill (SB 1028) dealing with charter schools.
While most arguments in support of the ban center on fairness to cisgender women, Sen. Kelli Stargel, responding to questions from Democratic lawmakers, expanded the argument to include safety issues.
“I feel that the safety of our girls to be able to play in girls’ sports without potentially being harmed by a much stronger man, who may be playing on that sport, or whether it’s a transition female that may still be stronger,” Stargel said.
During debate on the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. Vic Torres, arguing against the ban, said his granddaughter is transgender.
“We don’t need to destroy the lives of those children and their futures. If they want to play let them play. They’re in our armed forces right now,” Torres pleaded. “They are part of society.”
Emotions were high during Torres’ plea. Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell was escorted off the Senate floor in tears. She later crossed party lines to vote against the amendment.
Language in the amendment is similar to a bill (HB 1475) that passed the House mostly along party lines earlier in the Session, but did not have support in the Senate. A major difference in the amendment is that students would not be subject to a physical examination to resolve gender disputes. Instead, the amendment states a student’s gender would be decided by their original birth certificate.
“We were worried about the invasiveness of verifying biological sex,” Tuck explained.
The new amendment also does not include elementary school students, which the previous bill did.
Brandon Rep. Andrew Learned said the original birth certificate requirement would penalize adopted children who don’t have an original birth certificate. Learned asked for the bill to be tabled until the issue could be sorted out, which Tuck declined to do.
“I really wish we had a chance to work this out before we had to be on microphones talking about it, because I think it’s a really important issue that’s going to affect a lot of kids across the state of Florida,” Learned said while debating on the House floor.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith offered two amendments to what he called Tuck’s “11th-hour” amendment. Guillermo Smith’s amendments, neither of which passed, would have kept some pathways for transgender athletes to compete in women’s and girls’ sports.
LGBTQ advocacy groups quickly issued statements condemning the amendment shortly after it was revealed Wednesday. Gina Duncan, Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality, released a statement while debate was still occurring on the House floor.
“In the 11th hour of the 2021 legislative session, Florida lawmakers are still hellbent on passing this discriminatory bill,” Duncan said. “Despite hearing the voices of trans kids and their families time and time again, extremists in the legislature have made it their mission to make trans children pawns in their culture war. Now, instead of being open about their bigotry, they are negotiating the future of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in smoke-filled back rooms and attempting to attach this amendment to a completely unrelated bill.”
Florida’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act comes after a federal judge in Connecticut dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prevent transgender athletes from competing in high school girls’ sports.
The lawsuit, brought by two cisgender women who had lost track competitions to two transgender women, was dismissed on procedural grounds. The judge said because all of the athletes had graduated there was no dispute to resolve.
Arguments on both sides centered around Title IX, a federal law that requires equal opportunities for women and girls in education, including sports.
Supporters of the ban say transgender athletes have an unfair advantage, which violates the rights of cisgender women under Title IX.
People who oppose the ban say, under Title IX, the rights of transgender women are being denied.
The ban is not unique to Florida. Republican legislatures in more than 20 states have brought legislation to ban or limit transgender athletes. The laws have been signed in West Virginia, Idaho, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.
The Senate’s original postponement of the last bill came after the NCAA released a statement seeming to threaten a boycott of states that pass a transgender ban.
“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the NCAA Board of Governors wrote in a memo.
The NCAA has taken similar action before. The athletic association moved a championship out of North Carolina in 2016 after that state restricted bathroom access for transgender people.