An emotionally-charged and long-dreaded conversation is fully on display in the Florida Legislature, with the life and liberties of some of Florida’s most vulnerable communities, transgender folks, on the line.
Wednesday, the state House is likely to pass a highly controversial bill, HB 1475, that would restrict transgender athletes from playing on the teams that correlate with their gender identity and instead force them to play on the team that matches their gender assigned at birth.
The bill would affect all public sport teams in Florida from elementary school to college athletics.
The issue has become a national debate and in some cases, a debacle, with dozens of states proposing the controversial legislation.
Tuesday, the debate lasted four hours and was largely a one-sided effort from House Democrats pleading to soften the blow of the legislation. The GOP controls the House chamber, and the state Senate as well.
State Rep. Michele Rayner, a Democrat who represents parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties, likened an aspect of the bill to sexual assault at the Tuesday House session.
“A child that is forced, coerced by an authority figure to have a physical examination of their external reproductive anatomy – if that isn’t sexual assault, I don’t know what is,” said Rayner, who is an attorney. “There should be no circumstance where the law requires genital inspection.”
The Republicans, for the most part, didn’t defend their bill or grace the Democrats with any kind of response. If the bill is approved Wednesday, the next step would to head to the state Senate.
Democrats trip to keep the youngest athletes out of the bill — elementary school children — fearing that the provisions in the bill would especially harm very young students. But that failed.
Rep. Rayner’s comments and explanations showed the invasive nature of the bill.
If there is a dispute about a child’s gender and whether the kid is playing on the correct sports team, the legislation requires a medical professional to verify the sex of the student through one of three ways: a student’s genetic make-up, their testosterone levels, or their reproductive anatomy.
Meaning that minors in any grade, from kindergarteners to seniors in high school, could be subjected to an invasive medical exam, which may include blood tests or genital inspection, to ensure that students are playing on the sports team that matches the gender they were assigned at birth.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who represents part of Orange County, wanted to include a birth certificate — an option when a student’s gender is challenged. But the Republicans did not go for that.
Smith was trying to propose a compromise, but GOP members were silent.
“No one stood up. Why?” Smith asked members in the House chamber.
He continued: “You didn’t stand up to defend the bill…Because you can’t defend the indefensible.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kaylee Tuck, a Republican who represents Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee counties and part of St. Lucie County, said that the bill is designed to protect the integrity of women’s sports. Supporters of the legislation fear that allowing transgender women on a women’s team means that they will have a competitive advantage.
But according to the Idaho Capital Sun, the bill is a part of a nationwide effort to legislate the lives of transgender people in the United States, and about 30 other states have proposed similar legislation.
Despite the national push for these types of bills that manage the lives of transgender people, there has been notable pushback too.
The Board of Governors for the National Collegiate Athletic Association created a stir in the discourse by stating that “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,” according to a written statement Monday.
“Inclusion and fairness can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport,” the statement says.
That kind of feedback is huge, as the NCAA oversees Florida’s major college sports teams — the Florida State Seminoles, FAMU Rattlers, the Florida Gators, the Miami Hurricanes, and more.
If the NCAA finds issue with the state of Florida’s transgender policy, they may cancel games in the Sunshine State, meaning Florida could face huge financial and economic consequences.
The NCAA itself has a thorough and explanatory policy for transgender athletes in place, and has had one for years. According to the NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes, published in August of 2011, transgender women can participate on women’s teams, saying that “advantages a transgender woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of estrogen or testosterone-suppression therapy.”
Just last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida called HB 1475 “unconstitutional,” claiming that the bill discriminates athletes based on sex.