A national effort from conservative state lawmakers to ban transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports looks to be dead in Florida.
Although the Florida House voted to pass House Bill 1475 — its version of the controversial measure — last week, Senate lawmakers could not agree on a way to advance the bill. The last day of Florida’s 60-day legislative session is April 30.
The Senate version of the bill, SB 2012, was set to be heard in a committee Tuesday — the last scheduled day of Senate committee meetings. But the measure’s hearing was temporarily postponed, meaning it will likely never make it to the Senate floor for a vote. (In order to become law, identical transgender athlete bills would have to pass the House and Senate, and then be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.)
“I believe Florida should protect the ability of girls and women to safely participate in athletics, and I think there is consensus among my colleagues surrounding that underlying policy objective. We want to get there in a manner that respects the inherent dignity of each person,” the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said in a statement. “Right now, my primary focus as Appropriations chair is our constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget, and in a time-limited environment, I don’t know that we will have sufficient time to revisit SB 2012 this session.”
Proponents of Stargel’s bill say it is necessary to maintain competitive equity in scholastic sports in Florida.
Some transgender Floridians and equal rights advocates, who vociferously oppose the bill, were measured in their celebration of the bill’s apparent death Tuesday. Those advocates argue that the divisive measure discriminates against an already marginalized group: transgender kids.
“The legislative session does not end until April 30. We must remain vigilant and prepared to oppose this horrific legislation until the end of session and beyond,” said Nathan Bruemmer, a transgender man and community activist from St. Petersburg.
The Senate Rules Committee could still hear the bill before the end of session if the committee’s chair, Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, decides to call another meeting.
Other Democratic opponents of the bill were downright jubilant Tuesday.
“Ding dong the witch is dead. Rip Transgender bill!” Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, tweeted.
NCAA, state high school association already have rules
The House bill that passed last week would have required all students in scholastic sports to play in a manner consistent with the sex assigned to them at birth. For weeks, the Senate version was slightly more inclusive. It would have allowed transgender athletes to participate if they could show their testosterone levels were below a certain level.
Late Monday night, Stargel filed an amendment to the Senate bill that would have made it identical to the House bill, except for one key difference. The House bill stipulated that institutions had to resolve complaints about a student’s sex with a health examination from a healthcare provider. The student could prove their sex one of three ways: with a DNA test; with a testosterone test or with medical professional examining the student’s “reproductive anatomy.”
The version of the Senate bill filed by Stargel Monday did not include any of that language. Instead, Stargel’s bill left it up to the Florida Board of Education to create rules about how to resolve disputes around a student’s sex. (Andy Tuck, the Board of Education’s chair, is the father of the House sponsor of HB 1475, Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid.)
The “reproductive anatomy” language was a major point of controversy for House Democrats, who argued the provision amounted to the state legalizing “genital inspections.” Such claims went viral on social media.
The bill’s detractors have also said that the House and the Senate bills are, at best, unnecessary. Both the Florida High School Athletic Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have policies allowing transgender athletes to participate in sports in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.
Supporters of the bill have pointed to no examples of competitive equity issues in girls’ and women’s sports in Florida. However, those supporters point to an example from Connecticut, in which transgender athletes won several state track and field titles starting in 2017.
A nationwide effort
At least 30 states are taking up bills similar to the ones that have been contemplated in Florida this session. This fact has led equal rights advocates to contend that HB 1475 and SB 2012 were part of a national effort to marginalize transgender people.
It’s also led to a national spotlight being shone on otherwise relatively anonymous state lawmakers. Tuck, the House sponsor of the bill, has gotten thousands of emails and tweets and about her proposal — some of them threatening.
The national debate has also led national organizations to weigh in on Florida policy. Last week, the NCAA put out a statement saying it could pull championships from states that decide to pass the transgender sports bills.
But Republican leaders from both the House and Senate have said lawmakers paid no attention to those threats.
“This is now a movement that you’re seeing in corporate America. Whether it’s the NCAA today or it might be someone tomorrow, that we’re going to use our corporate largess to bully the state,” Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said at a news conference last week. “The state of Florida is not going be bullied by any corporate actor.”