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DeSantis signs controversial transgender athlete bill; legal challenges likely

Detractors of the ban have argued it is discriminatory and unnecessary.
FILE - In this April 30, 2021, file photo surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Now that the pandemic appears to be waning and DeSantis is heading into his reelection campaign next year, he has emerged from the political uncertainty as one of the most prominent Republican governors and an early White House front-runner in 2024 among Donald Trump's acolytes, if the former president doesn't run again. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
FILE - In this April 30, 2021, file photo surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Now that the pandemic appears to be waning and DeSantis is heading into his reelection campaign next year, he has emerged from the political uncertainty as one of the most prominent Republican governors and an early White House front-runner in 2024 among Donald Trump's acolytes, if the former president doesn't run again. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Jun. 1
Updated Jun. 1

TALLAHASSEE — After months of contentious debate, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a bill banning transgender females from participating in women’s and girls’ scholastic sports.

At a bill signing event at the Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, DeSantis touted the ban as a way to protect the integrity of women’s and girls’ sports. The provision he signed into law would prohibit an athlete from competing in school-sponsored girls’ and women’s sports if the athlete was not assigned the female gender at birth. Elementary school athletes are not included in the ban.

“In Florida, girls are going to play girls’ sports, and boys are going to play boys’ sports,” DeSantis said.

Detractors of the ban, including equal rights advocates and many transgender people, have argued the bill is an effort to score political points by further alienating transgender people.

Before DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1028 into law, major scholastic sports governing bodies — the Florida High School Athletic Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association — already had policies in place governing the participation of transgender athletes.

Supporters of the effort to restrict transgender athlete participation have cited no examples of competitive issues in Florida. However, they have pointed to a high-profile Connecticut case, in which transgender girls won several track and field titles. Selina Soule, one of the athletes who sued to end Connecticut’s transgender inclusion policy, spoke at Tuesday’s bill signing. The new law will take effect July 1.

Florida is the most populous state to pass such a transgender athlete ban, but it’s not the first. Last year, Idaho became the first state to enact such a measure. This year, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi all followed suit. Lawyers for the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Civil Liberties Union have pledged to sue Tennessee officials. Idaho’s law is currently held up in federal lawsuits.

The fight over the controversial policy in Florida will now also head to the courts. Minutes after DeSantis signed the bill, the LGBTQ civil rights group the Human Rights Campaign announced its intention to sue the state.

“Gov. DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are legislating based on a false, discriminatory premise that puts the safety and well-being of transgender children on the line,” the organization’s president, Alphonso David, said in a statement. “Transgender kids are kids; transgender girls are girls. Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to play sports with their friends and be a part of a team.”

Related: As Florida lawmakers took aim at transgender athletes, old wounds reopened

The transgender athlete ban had a bumpy ride through the Florida Legislature. At various points, the measure looked to have little chance to become law. But on the third-to-last day of the regular lawmaking session, legislators resurrected the policy by attaching it to SB 1028, a bill about charter schools.

At the time, equal rights advocates blasted what they said was a clandestine effort to discriminate. On Tuesday, many of those advocates decried the policy, which has become a national conservative rallying cry.

“These bills were a carefully orchestrated culture war that was unleashed in over 30 states across the country,” said Gina Duncan, a transgender woman and the director of transgender equality with the advocacy group Equality Florida, at a news conference. “These bills were all structured to achieve one thing: to demonize and discriminate against transgender Americans.”

Equal rights advocates also noted the conspicuous timing of the bill’s signing. June 1 is the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month.

DeSantis was asked by a reporter whether he was trying to send a message to Florida’s LGBTQ community by signing this bill at the beginning of their month of celebration. The governor said he was not: “It’s not a message to anything other than saying we’re going to protect fairness in women’s sports.”

Although the transgender provision will likely garner the most attention, there are other noteworthy provisions in the bill DeSantis signed on Tuesday.

For example, the 73-page bill will allow public colleges and universities to authorize charter schools and enter contracts for their operation, a move that Republicans in the state Legislature have pushed for several years. The policy change will make it easier to open charter schools beyond local school district sponsoring.

One of the main drivers of the bill, Rep. Stan McClain, R-Ocala, said creating more avenues to authorize charters will improve career training and “lead to economic security for our children.”

The bill will also allow parents to have their children repeat a grade next academic school year to recover from pandemic-induced learning losses.

The measure also originally would have delayed when Florida college athletes can profit off their name, image and likeness by one year. But DeSantis said he plans to sign a separate bill soon that will reverse that delay, meaning college athletes could soon start profiting from their brands on July 1.

The NCAA’s influence loomed over the passage of SB 1028. In April, the organization’s Board of Governors wrote a letter in which they said the organization would only hold events in states “where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.”

Florida Democrats warned about the potential economic toll of the new law. House Democratic co-leader Bobby DuBose said it “could cost Floridians millions of dollars in both economic damage and lawsuits.”

It’s unclear if DeSantis’ bill signing will affect any of the more than 40 regional or national championships Florida is slated to host between the next academic year and May of 2026. A spokeswoman for the NCAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

DeSantis said he would stand by the law whether the NCAA decides to boycott the state or not.

“If the price of providing opportunities that can last a lifetime for all the girls throughout the state of Florida, for ensuring fair competition for them; if the price of that is that we lose an event or two?” DeSantis said. “I would choose to protect our young girls every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”