Florida House set to pass transgender athlete bill

The Florida House is poised to pass a measure that would ban transgender females from participating in girls’ and women’s high-school and college sports, amid fierce opposition from Democrats and warnings about potential financial repercussions.

The House on Tuesday took up the so-called "Fairness In Women’s Sports Act" (HB 1475), positioning it for a vote on Wednesday. The proposal would make participation in athletics contingent on determining students’ "biological sex," a disputed term that refers to the sex assigned at birth.

Bill sponsor Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, said the measure is aimed at ensuring that women and girls do not become "sideline spectators in their own sports." Central to her argument is an assertion that males have an advantage over females in playing sports.

"We are not trying to stop anybody from playing sports. We are simply asking that they play based on their biological gender so we can preserve women’s sports and protect women’s safety," Tuck said.

During hours of debate Tuesday, House Democrats made impassioned objections to the measure, arguing that it targets already-vulnerable transgender teens and adults. 

"We understand the experiences of discrimination, we understand the experiences of the most marginalized amongst us," Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said.

Republicans, who hold a huge majority in the House, defeated 24 amendments proposed by Democrats, including one that would have exempted elementary and middle school students from the measure.

The Florida High School Athletic Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, governing organizations of high school and college sports, have rules addressing the participation of transgender students in sports.

Democrats questioned whether cases have been documented about teams with transgender student-athletes having a competitive advantage. They also tried to cast doubt about the measure being "evidence-based."

"Just to be clear, we don’t know how many matches a team with a transgender player has won?" asked Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

Tuck cited only out-of-state disputes but said she has received emails from parents about the issue.

"Just because there’s not a news article about it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem," Tuck said.

Rep. Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, painted the measure as purely political and not seeking to address a real problem.

"I wish that what we did in this room was more about reason and less about power. But here, it’s all about flexing our legislative muscles," Hardy said.

Opponents also objected to a proposed process for handling disputes over athletes’ genders, saying it would violate student privacy.

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."

"Who exactly begins the dispute process underneath your bill?" asked Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg

Tuck responded that language in the bill regarding disputes is left "intentionally vague" so that the State Board of Education can develop those rules.

Opponents of the measure also argued that it will have a significant economic impact on the state, with the potential for sports tournaments and championships to be moved elsewhere.

On Monday, the NCAA released a statement about the more than two-dozen states that have introduced or passed legislation concerning 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. We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants," the statement said.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, endorsed the NCAA’s position Tuesday.

"This warning shot to states by the @NCAA is right on time as these bills makes its way through the process in Florida and around the country. If a sports organization believes student-athletes should be treated with dignity & respect, elected leaders should too! #LetKidsPlay," Jones tweeted.

Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, rebutted the idea that the NCAA would pull sporting events from Florida.

"We know exactly what they’ll do if this law passes --- the same thing they do for our student- athletes right now, and that's nothing. They treat them like free labor," LaMarca said.

A less-stringent Senate version of the transgender-athlete bill was postponed ahead of scheduled consideration Wednesday by the Senate Rules Committee.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate president Wilton Simpson, tweeted Monday that the measure was tabled for "planning purposes, with a busy Rules agenda on Wednesday."

The Senate measure, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, includes an exception for "persons who transition from male to female" if they meet certain conditions, such as specified testosterone levels.

The LGBTQ-advocacy organization Equality Florida opposes both proposals.

"Despite no documented evidence of problems with current policy, HB 1475 has been fast-tracked through the Florida House by legislators and is part of a coordinated conservative national strategy that has introduced nearly identical legislation in over 30 states this year," the organization said in a statement Tuesday.