FL House passes controversial bill affecting transgender athletes, despite hours of opposition

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Amid a national debate over the rights of transgender kids on the playing field, the state House in Florida voted 77 to 40 to approve a pivotal bill affecting how transgender athletes participate in sports and athletics.

The bill, HB 1475, means transgender athletes would have to compete on teams that match with the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than the one that aligns with their gender identity.

In the GOP-controlled House chamber, the vote was expected. Democrats continued a passionate debate on the issues, but failed to get enough support to kill the legislation. The state Senate, as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis, would need approval for the bill to become law.

The legislation in the House started with an hours-long discussion on Tuesday, where House Democrats debated for four hours to try to soften the bill. Meanwhile, the Republican majority stayed mostly silent.

As the debate rolled over into Wednesday’s session, Rep. Michele Rayner, a Democrat who represents parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties, tried to begin her testimony in opposition of the bill, but had to pause as she started to cry. Colleagues came to her side to console her.

“I have struggled to understand why this is necessary,” Rayner said when she was able to compose herself. She continued: “We’re legislating sexual assault against children.”

Rayner, an attorney, was referring to an aspect of the bill that would require a student to have their gender verified by a medical professional through a  student’s genetic make-up, their testosterone levels, or their reproductive anatomy, if the athlete’s gender is in dispute.

Because the bill applies to all levels of sports, some fear that young children will be subjected to “genital exams” should the bill ultimately pass.

But unlike the Tuesday discussion, where the majority party would not engage in debate over the bill, some Republican members and one Democrat decided to speak up and defend the legislation.

Rep. Traci Koster, a Republican who represents part of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, spoke of her six-year-old daughter who is just getting into sports.

“I cannot help but to stand in support of this bill to ensure her an equal playing field,” Koster said.

Supporters of HB 1475 are worried that continuing to allow transgender women on women’s sports teams gives the transgender woman an unfair advantage. Koster quoted a female athlete, former tennis player Martina Navratilova, who suggested that transgender women participating in women’s sports are “cheating.”

“Simply put, we were designed differently,” Koster said.

Rep. James Bush, the Democrat who spoke in support of the legislation and who represents part of Miami-Dade County, said he was worried about girls getting injured by athletes who are bigger than them.

“I vote on principle — and the principle factor here, with this bill, is that we are trying to make sure that we protect the girls and not put them in a position where they can get injured or hurt.”

The Senate has it’s own version of the bill, SB 2012, which would allow transgender women to play on the woman’s team so long as the athlete’s testosterone levels are below a certain threshold.

That bill was supposed to be heard in the Senate Wednesday, but the bill sponsor temporarily postponed it. It is not clear how the Senate will address the ongoing debate about transgender athletes on sports teams.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.