Legislature revives, passes trans girl sports ban prompting fierce backlash

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Florida’s ban on transgender girls participating on girl’s teams died in the senate two weeks ago, but was revived and passed by both chambers late Wednesday as an amendment to a different bill. Members of the trans community now say Florida’s posturing to corporations and catering to a shrinking base is gambling with children’s lives.

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In the very best-case scenario, members of the trans community say comments like this:

“I embrace a child who would like to be trans. That’s their choice. If they’re LGBDT, LGB…Gay, they have that choice.”

From the bills senate sponsor, Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel, are proof those backing the bill lack a fundamental understanding of what it means to be a member of the transgender and LGBTQ community.

‘You don’t just do that’

It is widely accepted that being gay or trans is not a choice as much as an acknowledgement of a deep and personal truth. One that’s often difficult to grapple with.

Emily Gray is a trans woman from Bay County.

“We don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘hey you know what would be fun, let me just lose half of my family and friends and see if I get murdered.’ You just don’t do that,” she said. “All to play on a female’s sports team and maybe get a scholarship? That’s silly. No one does that.”

Gray joined a press conference on Zoom Thursday urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill that would block trans girls from playing girls sports in the state of Florida. Nearly identical bills authored by special interest groups have made their way through Republican-held state governments. A nearly identical law passed in Idaho has already been struck down federally. A Connecticut lawsuit seeking to block trans girls from playing on girls teams was also struck down by a federal judge.

‘Blood on your hands’

Stargel alleges the bill is meant to protect the safety and integrity of women’s sports because trans girls and women would have a competitive advantage, but there’s no evidence that’s true. In fact, one of the cisgender Connecticut girls who sued to block trans girls from her team beat the girl she was suing in a state championship race two days after the lawsuit was filed.

Sen. Stargel says she’s received harsh criticism for sponsoring the bill. Lakey Love of the Florida Coalition for Transgender liberation says those critics are right.

“People were calling her a witch and a bigot and a monster,” Love said. “And she is. What you are doing is transphobic. It makes you a witch, a bigot and a monster and you have blood on your hands.”

Gambling with lives

The sports community from the professional to scholastic level has largely spoken against the bill and its counterparts in other states. The NCAA recently said it won’t hold championships in states that ban trans athletes. And a group of more than 55 major corporations signed on to a letter denouncing the bills and indicating they’d reduce operations in states that pass them.

Shortly after the House version of the bill passed, Representative Chris Latvala Tweeted:

“The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act has passed the House and Senate and is now headed to the Governor. Your turn to do nothing, NCAA.”

Love says Latvala and other Republicans – who have recently decried corporate involvement in politics while at the same time accepting donations from corporations – are gambling with children’s lives.

“I can definitely say they’ve been playing poker with trans lives this whole time,” they said. “We’re gonna call your bluff because we’re gonna work with the NCAA and we’re gonna work with the corporations.”

A bitter promise

The mood on the call was somber but determined. Speakers from the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Women’s March of Florida, Florida Council of Churches and many more were blindsided by the rushed passage. And it’s not just the trans girls who they fear for. The bill doesn’t preempt participation but would block it if someone challenges an athlete’s gender.

Gray said that’s a dangerous standard.

“These bills that they try to pass to help cisgender women are actually just harming all women in general,” she said. “There are now cisgender women that look just a little too masculine or their hair is short and they’re getting turned away.”

Willow Leech, a trans woman and activist for trans rights offered one parting message to the bill’s supporters.

“My only message to them, to Sen. Stargel to Gov. DeSantis is a bitter promise. That we. Will. Fight,” she said. “We will fight for ourselves, we will fight for each other, we will fight for our children. And as with civil rights movements of the past, no matter how long it takes or how much we suffer along the way, we will endure and we will win.”

Legal challenges to the constitutionality of the bill are expected if Gov. DeSantis signs it into law.