TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's Republican governor signed a bill Tuesday barring transgender females from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes born as girls, plunging the state into the national culture war over transgender rights.
"In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports," Gov. Ron DeSantis said as he signed the bill into law at a Christian academy in Jacksonville. "We're going to make sure that that's the reality."
The new law, sure to be challenged as unconstitutional, inflames an already contentious discussion unfolding nationally as Republican-controlled states move to limit the rights of LGBTQ people. It also could impose severe financial consequences on Florida.
The NCAA, which oversees college athletics, has threatened to relocate key games from states that discriminate against certain athletes. When the Florida Legislature was considering the measure in April, the NCAA said it would commit championship games to "locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination."
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High-profile athletic events, such as football bowl games and basketball tournaments, generate millions of dollars for local communities.
The measure approved by the GOP-led Legislature takes effect July 1. It says a transgender student athlete can’t participate without first showing a birth certificate saying she was a girl when she was born. It's not clear whether all females must show their birth certificates, or only those whose gender is questioned. The proposal allows another student to sue if a school allows a transgender girl or woman to play on a team intended for biological females.
The final wording of the "Fairness in Women’s Sports Act" stripped away some of its most contentious elements, including a requirement that transgender athletes in high schools and colleges undergo testosterone or genetic testing and submit to having their genitalia examined.
But the legislation signed by the governor advances an underlying principle asserted by supporters: Biological differences between males and females make it unfair for athletes identified as boys at birth to compete on teams for girls and women. The law would not bar female athletes from playing on boys' or men's teams.
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said the new law would not only harm transgender girls. "All Floridians will have to face the consequences of this anti-transgender legislation -- including economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation."
Democrats and LGBTQ advocates said the law is plainly discriminatory and will be challenged in court as unconstitutional.
"This is yet another hate-driven attack from the governor and Republican legislators, and it’s insulting that they’ve staged this morning’s photo-op on the first day of Pride Month," said state Sen. Shevrin Jones after the bill's signing. "At the end of the day, transgender kids are just kids."
The ban was tucked at the last minute of the legislative session into a measure allowing public universities and colleges to sponsor charter schools — a point the governor did not mention during the bill signing. It was the transgender athletes provision that was front and center in Tuesday's rhetoric.
"This bill is very simply about making sure that women can safely compete, have opportunities and physically be able to excel in a sport that they trained for, prepared for and work for," said state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican who championed the bill.
"This is nothing about anybody being discriminated against," she said. "It’s solely so that women have an opportunity to compete in women’s sports."
The Florida law mirrors an Idaho law, the first of its kind when enacted last year, that is now mired in legal challenges. Republican governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee recently signed similar measures.