DeSantis signs controversial transgender girls sports ban on first day of Pride in Jacksonville

Emily Bloch
Florida Times-Union

On the first day of Pride month, Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a press conference Tuesday in Jacksonville to sign a bill into law that will ban transgender women athletes from competing in high school girls' and college womens' sports teams

SB1028 is a wide-ranging education bill that includes school choice measures as well as the controversial transgender ban. 

"We believe, in the state of Florida, in protecting the fairness and integrity of women's athletics," DeSantis said. "In Florida, girls are going to play girls' sports and boys are going to play boys' sports ... We're going to go based off biology, not ideology." 

Dig a little deeper:Florida Legislature passes bill banning transgender women and girls from female sports teams

More:Florida lawmakers ban transgender females from competing with girls, women

The press conference took place at Trinity Christian Academy, where the governor threw ball caps into the audience. A podium read "The Fairness in Women's Sports Act."

DeSantis invited Selina Soule, a Connecticut high school track star, to speak on her experience, where she says she was sidelined by transgender girls competing against her. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a panel in Jacksonville, Florida on Aug. 4, 2020.

"I've lost countless opportunities over the last few years," she said. "Allowing male athletes to compete in girls' sports shatters dreams." 

She thanked DeSantis, who added later that Soule may be looking into transferring to a Florida university. 

Bill critics have warned that the ban provision could hurt the state's chances at hosting large sports conferences or securing corporate sponsorships. But DeSantis told the crowd that he's not concerned and that the most important thing is to "protect our girls," and that he'd do that over a financial deal "every day and twice on Sunday." 

The ban has also drawn sharp criticism from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups as well as Democratic lawmakers. 

“It’s shameful that Republican lawmakers are wasting tax dollars attacking Florida’s most vulnerable communities rather than prioritizing the issues that impact everyday people’s lives,” State Sen. Shevrin Jones said in a statement asking the governor to veto the bill as it approached veto deadline. 

Shortly after the press conference ended, the Human Rights Campaign announced it would be filing a lawsuit to block the ban. Equality Florida also announced a series of rallies against the law across the state.

“We need to be clear about the message of this hateful bill: Governor DeSantis and GOP leaders in the legislature are not concerned about athletics, they simply don’t believe that transgender people exist,” Equality Florida director Gina Duncan said.

Duncan leads the group's Transgender Equality department. “That is the kind of erasure that makes life more dangerous for those who are already at the highest risk of violence," she said. "This bill is shameful, violent, and just made the world less safe for our most vulnerable young people.”

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When asked by a reporter about the timing of DeSantis' bill signing, on the first day of Pride month, the governor replied that he met personnel from Trinity Christian at a football game. 

"It was nothing more than that," he said. "They had a venue to offer ... It's not a message to anything other than that we're going to protect women's sports." 

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her.