I was an athlete. Florida’s transgender sports ban is about culture wars, not ‘protecting girls’ | Opinion

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When the Florida Legislature passed a bill during the session to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports, Republicans framed it as a valiant women’s-rights measure.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will sign Senate Bill 1028 because, “We’re going to protect our girls,” adding his young daughters are “both very athletic” and “we want to have opportunities for our girls.”

For my entire adolescence and part of my 20s, I was one of those girls — by “girls,” the governor and Republicans mean only those who were assigned female at birth.

I played volleyball for 12 years, including four years in Division 1 college sports. It was thanks to an athletic scholarship that I graduated from Florida International University with zero student debt.

According to bill supporters, opportunities for girls like me would be diminished because “biological males” would be competing for these opportunities.

Co-opting women’s rights

But I’m horrified by a Legislature that prioritized this ban in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than 35,000 Floridians. More time was spent on this measure that affects a hand full of people than on a failed proposal to raise unemployment benefits — something that would have helped hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

I’m offended lawmakers have co-opted women’s rights to hurt trans women and girls and advance a cultural wars agenda. Roughly 35 similar bills have been filed throughout the country this year.

Of course, people who are assigned male at birth are stronger, they jump higher and they spike the ball harder. You don’t have to deny these facts, which the sponsor said is the premise of the bill, to be against it.

The Florida Senate had a more sensible, early version of the bill that would have made an exception for athletes who underwent hormone therapy to suppress testosterone. The Senate in the end opted to go with the House’s outright ban. Sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel said this was the “simplistic” route because the science is not settled on whether hormone treatment levels the playing field. It’s worth noting that several researchers, including those offering guidance to sports organizations, such as the International Olympic Committee, support allowing transgender girls to compete after a year of treatment. Others have said the athletic advantages of higher testosterone levels in transgender girls are less pronounced before 17 or 18.

If the science is still out on this issue, then why not let researchers settle this instead of making it impossible for these athletes to engage in sports?

The bill supporters’ talking points would have one assume boys dressed in spandex shorts were infiltrating female sports. And that’s probably how many Republicans in Tallahassee, who probably never met a transgender person, think of transgender women (for the purpose of clarity, a transgender woman is someone who’s assigned male at birth but identifies as female).

Stargel, R-Lakeland, said on the Senate floor last week that children who “would like to be trans” or “LGB-gay” (the correct term is LGBTQ) “have that choice” — because, really, who wouldn’t choose the ostracism, discrimination and the higher rates of suicide and depression the trans community faces?

Why this is a non-issue

The same Republicans who act as if banning trans athletes were a matter of life or death for women’s sports cannot cite one specific case where those athletes created problems in Florida.

That’s probably because, since 2015, only 11 trans kids have gone through the process to play sports set up by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Of those 11 students, only two played women’s sports. One of them was on a bowling team, and it’s unknown what sport the other played. It’s also unknown whether these students have already graduated.

That means Florida just passed a bill to address two known athletes who might or might not be currently playing (granted, there might be a few more at the college level), and one of them played a sport that requires no contact. The cruelty of this bill is further exemplified by the fact no exceptions were made for less-competitive and recreational intramural sports.

We don’t need lawmakers to address this issue because there’s a process already in place that seems to be working. The FHSAA requires trans athletes to go through several steps to qualify for a team, including:

Written verification from a healthcare professional “of the student’s consistent gender identification and expression;

Documentation that affirms “that the actions, attitudes, dress and manner demonstrate the student’s consistent gender identification and expression;”

A hearing before a committee established to preside over gender-identity reviews. That committee must include a coach of the sport in which participation is desired, a psychiatrist familiar with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and/or a physician with experience in gender identity.

The FHSAA policy exempts private religious schools from having to accept trans athletes.

At the college level, the National Collegiate Athletic Association requires one year of testosterone suppression treatment for male-to-female transgender athletes.

The NCAA policy handbook cites Eric Vilain, director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology and Chief Medical Genetics Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles: “Research suggests that androgen deprivation and cross-sex hormone treatment in male-to-female transsexuals reduces muscle mass; accordingly, one year of hormone therapy is an appropriate transitional time before a male-to-female student-athlete competes on a women’s team.”

If the NCAA and FHSAA — you know, the experts on sports — have already addressed this issue with no known complaints, why did the Legislature rush this bill?

I suspect this has less to do with fairness in sports and more with pushing an agenda that preys on cultural wars issues that might score points with the GOP base but will further marginalize some of our most vulnerable students.

Republicans, whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, don’t hide behind your “Let’s protect our girls” nonsense.

Isadora Rangel is a member of the Miami Herald’s Editorial Board.