Democrats battle to repeal trans sports ban, but the political climate might not be in their favor
It became just a little tougher for transgender youth in Florida.

young person with a transgender pride flag
It's an election year, after all.

Beginning this year, Florida law bans transgender women and girls from women’s and girls’ sports, but an effort is underway to force the Legislature to reconsider the ban.

Democratic Rep. Kristen Aston Arrington of Kissimmee last month filed a companion bill (HB 6065) to Sen. Gary Farmer’s SB 212 that seeks to repeal the transgender sports ban resulting from one of the last Session’s most contentious debates.

The law, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and passed largely along party lines, means athletes are eligible for sports teams based on the gender they were assigned at birth or near the time of birth.

LBGTQ advocates regard the law as further stigmatizing those who identify with a gender other than the one assigned at birth. Proponents, however, say the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” keeps transgender athletes from exercising an unfair advantage over women and girls in games and races.

Arrington said she heard some corporations might be willing to penalize states passing such laws, similar to what North Carolina experienced in 2017 over its “bathroom bill.” That year, Bruce Springsteen and other performers canceled concerts and the NCAA canceled its championship game there after a new law banned transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Estimates put the state’s economic losses at $3.76 billion as result of the ban. The law has since been repealed.

Last year, Arrington said, “big business didn’t weigh in. My hope is that if we bring some attention to the ban, more companies will speak up and people will realize why this is a bad idea.”

Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican, would beg to differ. He said last year’s proceedings received plenty of publicity, and the boycott threats have failed to materialize.

“There’s been no negative fiscal impact,” Latvala said. “Even if there was, I have no regrets about standing by this bill.”

Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, doesn’t see Democrats winning more Republican votes to their side for the next Session. It’s an election year, after all.

“They don’t want to do something that would anger their base,” Jewett said. “Gov. DeSantis, in particular, sort of sets the pace for the Republican Party in Florida, and he has highlighted that bill on a number of occasions as one of the things that he’s proud of, that he thinks shows that they’re standing up to Democrats, the (Joe) Biden administration and that sort of thing.”

Florida is the least reliably Republican state when compared to others that have passed similar bans: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. The policy is also in effect in South Dakota after its Governor signed an executive order.

Jewett points out, though, that Florida has been less than progressive on LGBTQ issues than most other purple states. Florida was one of the last states to allow gay couples to have foster children, for instance. And this particular issue is more complicated than keeping transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Radical feminists also don’t think that people who were assigned male at birth should be competing in women’s sports, Jewett said.

“I think this one’s a little more complicated in terms of the political support,” Jewett said.

And those complications might be why there isn’t the same outcry from performers and corporations as there was over North Carolina’s bathroom law, Jewett said.

In August, the NCAA put out a statement requiring all championship hosts to reaffirm their commitment to ensure a nondiscriminatory and safe environment for all college athletes — with an inclusive path for transgender participation. And those in states not allowing transgender participation were told to “contact the NCAA immediately.”

Still, the NCAA’s championship schedule shows Florida scheduled to host collegiate championships Nov. 20 through May of next year. An inquiry to the NCAA regarding the inconsistency was not answered at the time of publication.

Christina Pushaw, Gov. DeSantis’ spokeswoman, is declaring victory.

“Florida is one of the most important states for college sports, so it’s not surprising the NCAA walked back its threats,” she wrote in an email. “It is just surprising that anyone is still bringing this up as a valid reason to repeal a law that protects women’s sports.”

Farmer, of Fort Lauderdale, said he introduced his repeal as an effort to appeal to his colleagues’ better selves — and send a strong message to Florida’s trans youth.

“You have just as much right to run onto a field or court as any other girl in this state,” he said at a news conference last month. “And we want you to know that we are here to fight for you. And that we will continue to fight this bully mentality that led to this legislation being passed. We will always be on your team.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]



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