TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Republican-dominated Florida House on Wednesday passed a bill that would ban transgender females from playing on girls’ and women’s high-school and college sports teams, with Democrats arguing the measure is purely political.
The proposal (HB 1475) would make participation in athletics contingent on determining students’ "biological sex," a disputed term that refers to the sex assigned at birth.
The "Fairness in Women’s Sports Act" passed the House on a 77-40 vote along almost straight party lines. The vote sets the stage for the House to try to reach agreement on the issue with the Senate, which has a bill that differs from the House measure.
House sponsor Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, argued during a debate Tuesday that the measure doesn’t ban transgender students from participating in sports but is "simply asking that they play based on their biological gender."
Central to Tuck’s argument is an assertion that males hold an edge over females in playing sports. Several of Tuck’s Republican women colleagues backed her argument Wednesday. All Republicans present for the vote supported the bill.
"This is about giving women and girls an equal chance to succeed. It’s simple, it’s clear, I’ve reviewed it," said Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, a Fort Myers Republican who said she played and coached tennis.
But House Democrats pushed back Wednesday, painting the measure as a political red-meat bill for Republicans that doesn’t address a real problem.
"I don’t care how many times you tell yourself this is about women’s sports and not LGBTQ rights or discrimination, because that is wrong," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, also an Orlando Democrat, pointed to similar legislation in more than two-dozen other states.
"The bill, and unfortunalty as a consequence, transgender children, have been weaponized and turned into political pawns. Not just by the Republican Party of Florida, but by 25 Republican state legislatures across the country," Smith said during a news conference earlier Wednesday hosted by the advocacy group Equality Florida.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the main governing body for college sports, released a statement this week about its affiliation with states considering legislation about transgender student-athlete participation.
"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 statement said in part.
Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, was the only House Democrat to vote for the measure Wednesday. During floor debate, he said he supports the proposal as a way to protect female student-athletes from "stronger and bigger" male counterparts.
"I stand today not as a Democrat, not as a Republican, I stand today as a concerned parent of two former college football players," Bush said, adding that he also has been a coach and teacher.
Some Democrats took issue with part of the bill requiring examinations of students whose sex is called into question.
Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, likened the requirement to "state-sanctioned sexual assault against children."
Under the measure, students’ schools would have to resolve disputes "by requesting that the student provide a health examination and consent form or other statement signed by the student's personal health care provider which must verify the student's biological sex."
The measure provides that a student’s sex would be determined by their repoductive anatomy, genetic makeup or "normal endogenously produced testosterone levels."
After hours of debate over two days, Tuck said Wednesday the bill is "strictly to preserve the safety, integrity, fairness, and competitiveness of women’s sports," receiving an ovation from her Republican colleagues before the bill passed.
The Senate proposal (SB 2012) includes a carve-out for "persons who transition from male to female," making it less stringent than the House’s outright ban on tansgender girls’ participation in teams designated for female student-athletes.