Florida Governor Signs Transgender Student-Athlete Ban

Critics promise lawsuits and fewer sports competitions being held in the Sunshine State.

A large American flag is unfurled in the outfield before the second game of the best-of-three championship series between Florida and Oklahoma in the 2017 NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CN) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a controversial bill banning transgender female student-athletes from competing in school sports on Tuesday, sparking wide condemnation from state Democrats and civil rights groups.

The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act bars transgender female athletes in high school and college from participating in women’s sports. The provision defines a student’s biological sex as the gender on a birth certificate. An earlier version of the bill would have allowed genital inspections.

“In Florida, girls are going to play girl’s sports and boys are going to play boy’s sports,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

The signing came on the first day of Pride Month. The law takes effect on July 1.

The provision banning transgender student-athletes is part of a larger education bill passed by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. It also gives students the ability to sue a school that allows transgender students to play on a women’s sports team.

“It says that athletic teams or sports that are designated for females are open to females, and we’re going to go based off biology, not based off ideology, when we’re doing sports,” the Republican governor said.

The Florida measure joins similar regulations passed by Idaho last year and a handful of states this year. Lawmakers in those states contended the rules ensure fairness and equality. A federal judge has blocked the Idaho law, the first of its kind in the nation.

Soon after the signing, critics declared the Florida law unconstitutional and promised legal challenges.

“This is driven not by need or necessity, but by mean-spirited bare-knuckled tactics,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, in a conference call with reporters.

Earlier in the legislative session, supporters of the bill conceded there have not been any significant problems with women’s sports in Florida. At the bill signing, DeSantis introduced Selina Soule, a student-athlete from Connecticut who sued the state when she lost track competitions to transgender athletes. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in April.

“It’s telling that the governor had to go all the way to Connecticut to find a poster child for this bill,” Smith said.

Gina Duncan of Equality Florida said the Florida law and others around the country “attack the most vulnerable.”

“This rhetoric manifests on a local level and we see harassment and even violence against transgender youth,” Duncan said.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told reporters his organization is already drafting a lawsuit.

“This will ultimately hurt all people in Florida,” he said. “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.”

Critics argue the law could lead to sports organization’s pulling competitions from the state. In April, the NCAA’s board of governors alluded to such a move.

“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 board said in a statement.

The governor pushed back against those threats Tuesday.

“Let me say very clearly: In Florida, we’re going to do what’s right to stand up to corporations, they are not going to dictate the policies in this state,” DeSantis said at the bill signing. “We will stand up to groups like the NCAA who think that they should be able to dictate the policies in different states.”

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