Florida Legislature passes bill banning transgender women and girls from female sports teams

House tacks amendment onto charter school bill in late-session maneuver

John Kennedy and Zac Anderson

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Republican leaders in the Legislature used some last-ditch maneuvering Wednesday night to revive and approve a controversial ban on transgender athletes participating in women’s sports at the high school and college levels.

The move sparked anger and emotional debate from Democrats in the House and Senate, surprised by the language added as a late amendment in the House to charter school legislation.

The House earlier this month approved the ban – but it failed to advance in the Senate, until made part of the charter school bill lawmakers were eager to approve before the session ends Friday.

The Senate balked at moving forward with the ban after the NCAA warned it might move championships out of locations where they felt student athletes were not treated with “dignity and respect.”

“I ask you please, kill this. We don’t need this,” said Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, who said he has a transgender grandchild.

Transgender female athletes would be limited to playing coed sports or on teams with male athletes under the legislation, which restricts female teams to individuals identified as female on their birth certificate. 

The bill applies to high school and college sports sponsored by public schools, including intramural and club teams.

Why Florida? Why now?:Transgender bill part of nationwide Republican push

Previously:Florida House passes transgender athletic bill, while Senate bill 'temporarily postponed'

An attendee holds a sign reading “Trans kids belong in sports,” at the Transgender Day of Visibility Rally, March 31, on the Pentacrest in Iowa City, Iowa. The Florida Legislature passed a bill Wednesday prohibiting transgender female athletes from playing on female sports teams.

Opponents Wednesday said the ban targets a fragile community of young Floridians struggling to come to grips with their gender. It also involves only a small group of transgender women and girls who may want to play sports.

Indeed, in the House, supporters cited no examples from Florida where transgender female athletes had a competitive advantage.

The measure now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is likely to sign it into law. Florida is among some 30 states where Republican lawmakers have seized on the transgender athlete issue after it was highlighted at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

DeSantis at that conference emerged in a poll of attendees as their favorite – outside of former President Donald Trump – for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, Wednesday night asked fellow lawmakers, “Why do we inflict ourselves on people who are suffering?” She noted that many families have members facing such gender issues and the physical and psychological demands are challenging.

The measure was approved by the House 79-37, in a mostly party-line vote. Just over two hours later, the Senate OK’d the bill 23-16 also, mostly on  party lines.

Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said the legislation (SB 1028) was needed to assure that female athletes of all ages are able to compete fairly and without the competitive advantage supporters said was inherent to an athlete born male.

“To think about my daughters competing against biological males rubs me the wrong way,” Perry said. “It’s just wrong.”

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, also defended her support for the ban.

“You can sit here and say there’s no difference between men and women. If that’s not the case, then why do we have the bills we have to protect women when it comes to assaults and rape ... we know that men are stronger than women,” she said.

“This is not against trans women ... but they are stronger than the other women on the team. There are studies that have shown they are stronger,” she added.

Under the bill, an athlete’s gender would be defined based on the sex assigned on their birth certificate. But Republican lawmakers backed away from earlier provisions that would have allowed schools to verify a student’s birth gender by a medical inspection of an athlete’s genitals.

Elementary school students also were dropped from the ban. Still, Democrats were unmoved.

“This is unnecessary. This is stupid,” said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach.

Follow John Kennedy of the Gannett Capital Bureau on Twitter at @jkennedyreport and Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson.