TALLAHASSEE — A Biden administration proposal that would set new regulations for transgender athlete eligibility in school sports is likely to brush up against a Florida law that bars transgender girls and women from participating in female scholastic sports.
And Florida’s top education official is already vowing to fight the proposed changes “tooth and nail.”
The proposed rule change would forbid schools from enacting outright bans on all transgender students from athletic teams that are consistent with their gender identities but would offer schools some flexibility when considering “fairness in competition” and other exceptions.
A violation of the rule would be a violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination at education institutions that receive federal funding in primary, secondary and higher education.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has championed a ban on transgender athletes as a way to protect the integrity of women’s and girls’ sports. The law, enacted in 2021, prohibits an athlete from competing in school-sponsored girls’ and women’s sports if the athlete was not assigned the female gender at birth.
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, called the proposed Title IX rule changes an “overreach.”
“This is a sad, pathetic attempt from a completely inept administration to force their woke worldview on the rest of us. Since Joe Biden can’t get Congress or the Supreme Court to rubber-stamp his radical gender ideology, he’s resorted to bullying America’s students through the federal bureaucracy. Good luck — this won’t fly in Florida,” Diaz said in a statement Thursday.
Diaz added that the state will “never allow boys to play in girls’ sports.”
“We will fight this overreach tooth and nail,” Diaz said. “And we will stop at nothing to uphold the protections afforded women under Title IX.”
Florida’s ban has faced legal challenges
A Broward County middle school student filed suit in June 2021, shortly after the Republican-led Florida Legislature and DeSantis approved the transgender athlete ban. The lawsuit contends that the ban is unconstitutional and violates Title IX. The case is ongoing.
Now the Biden administration is wading into the issues.
The proposed rule is the conclusion of a two-year review that outlines the Biden administration’s policy on the eligibility of transgender students to compete on gendered sports teams. It was billed as a compromise that preserves equal rights while granting schools the ability to make their own decisions.
The proposed rule would establish that policies violate Title IX “when they categorically ban transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity just because of who they are,” the U.S. Department of Education said in a statement.
The department will provide schools with a framework for eligibility considerations. The proposed new rule now enters a 30-day comment period.
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“The proposed rule also recognizes that in some instances, particularly in competitive high school and college athletic environments, some schools may adopt policies that limit transgender students’ participation,” the department said. “The proposed rule would provide schools with a framework for developing eligibility criteria that protects students from being denied equal athletic opportunity, while giving schools the flexibility to develop their own participation policies.”
The policy is likely to draw criticism from both sides of the debate on the matter.
Debate is likely to continue
LGBTQ+ rights advocates had hoped for a definitive statement from the department protecting transgender student athletes, while those opposed to transgender youth playing on sports teams of their identified gender claim that they can have an unfair athletic advantage.
The rules are almost certain to renew the hot-button debate over transgender athletes, even more so as the 2024 election cycle starts to take shape with DeSantis as a likely GOP rival to former President Donald Trump and Biden as a likely candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The debate over transgender athletes has become a legislative flashpoint in statehouses across the country. And DeSantis has frequently touted his efforts on the issue.
Florida is not alone in passing a transgender ban. Other states, including Idaho, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi have enacted similar laws.
Supporters of the effort cited no examples of competitive issues in Florida when the measure was being debated in 2021. However, they pointed to a high-profile Connecticut case, in which transgender girls won several track and field titles. LGBTQ+ advocates staunchly opposed the measure.
In a small victory for LGBTQ+ advocates Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift an injunction put in place by a federal judge on a West Virginia transgender athlete statute. However, the court did not decide whether that state’s law was constitutional, and litigation over it is ongoing.
McClatchy White House correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this report from Washington, D.C. Tampa Bay Times reporter Kirby Wilson contributed to this report from St. Petersburg.