Florida State Passes Bill Which Ban Transgender Women From Girls’ Sports

Stethoscope and face mask lay on folded nurse scrubs. Jesse Fraga/PantherNOW.

Martina Brady / Staff Writer

Florida legislators passed a bill in the State House preventing transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ competitive sports on the high school and collegiate levels.

HB 1475, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, would limit participation in sports based on biological sex. The bill would require schools to “resolve disputes regarding student’s sex” through medical examinations including genital inspections. The House bill, which passed April 14, must be debated by the Senate before it is signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Desha Gelles-Soto, advanced practice registered nurse who focuses specializes in gender affirmation treatments at the University of Miami Health System, said the proposed legislation is invasive.

“Any bill suggesting genital inspection as a proof of natural gender is not only preposterous, but barbaric. Having or not having the natural reproductive organs does not reflect one’s identity,” said Soto. “This type of exclusion and singling out of the right body part as a requirement to participate in women’s sports, will not only promote additional discrimination but can be extremely harmful and disruptive to transgender females.” 

Since the House bill passed, the Senate is now considering a complimentary bill. SB 2012 the Promoting Equality of Athletic Opportunity Act, sponsored by State Senator Kelli Stargel, would allow trans women to compete provided they meet certain testosterone requirements.

On Tuesday, Sen. Stargel said legislators would not be able to come to an agreement on the bill before the end of this years’ legislative session on April 30. However, lawmakers will have the opportunity to reintroduce the bill in 2022.

Jose Gabilondo, professor at the FIU College of Law, offered his interpretation of the Senate component.

“This particular bill raises three issues,” said Gabilondo. “One is regarding [who the] supporters are, the second is the signaling effect of the bill, and the third is the terms of the bill itself.”

According to Gabilondo, the context of the political party is important when evaluating the bill. 

“When you’re looking at this, because it’s a Republican initiative, I think you have to point out [that] this is coming from a party that is clearly associated with a particular view about sexuality, sexual orientation, and sex-based differences,” said the professor. “I think it’s fair to attribute discriminatory intentions to a lot of the people who will support this bill because they have a track record… in terms of supporting different kinds of discrimination.”

2021 has already set a record number of trans-related legislation on the state level. The Human Rights Council reports that 82 anti-trans bills were filed in state legislatures, passing the 2020 total of 79.

One of the most contentious pieces of legislation this year comes from Arkansas. On April 6, the state became the first to ban gender-affirming treatment for minors.

Gabilondo explains the heightened focus on transgender individuals comes from a rise in right-wing extremism, as well as advances in pro-LGBTQ movements. 

“The other reason why I think the issue is coming to the surface is because the advances that have been made in protecting gay people have made us more aware of the limits of our tolerance.”

Similar legislation arose when LGBTQ advocates began to champion for gay marirage, according to the law professor.

“You didn’t need to statue that gay people couldn’t get married. It was only when that became a possibility that states and the federal government had to codify their homophobia,” Gabilondo said. “So I think now that trans rights are on the rise… they may not be fully accepted yet, but we’re going in that direction now, [and] that frightens a lot of people.”

Deliberate or not, Gabilondo says, the bill will have a symbolic impact on the transgender community.

“The opponents of the bill have made an argument… that is that this bill will serve a… disapproval for… transgender identity. And that unfortunately is true,” he said. “I’m not saying that that’s the intent of the bill, but it’s an unavoidable consequence of this bill because the bill is inserted into a social debate.”

If passed, the law will go into effect on July 1, affecting transgender student athletes across Florida.

April Castillo, freshman majoring in computer science and STEM club president, is one of these athletes. Castillo, who identifies as a transgender woman, has practiced martial arts since middle school. At FIU she practiced Muay Thai and Krav Maga until the coach, Joshua Mendez, left to launch Tempered Martial Arts, a private school near the Modesto Maidique campus.

Castillo says that while martial arts is a conservative sport, coming out to her coach was a positive experience.

“I was like, ‘I’m trans, I use she/her pronouns.’ And he [said], ‘Okay great, I’m still gonna kick your ass in training,’” Castillo recalled. “After I came out, he said that he needs me to be tougher than other students, because… the world outside is tougher on me for who I am. It hurt, but that’s because it was true.”

Even before Castillo realized she was trans, she said stereotypes against trans athletes had a negative effect on her.

“I would see comments on the newspapers and social media posts… calling [a trans athlete] slurs and [saying she was] a man pretending to be a woman to beat up other women,” she said. 

Negativity against transgender women in sports ultimately influenced Castillo’s decision to avoid competing.

“When you reach a certain rank in weight, coach will say to take on some amateur fights. Not because he wanted everyone to go pro or anything, just because we needed that extra to our training, so we can get even better,” said Castillo. “And so even back when I first heard [about competing], I [thought], ‘I have a feeling I won’t be allowed to. If I were to try to, I would face a lot of backlash, and I’d rather just not go through that.”

Supporters of the bill say there are biological differences between trans and cisgender women. Rep. Kaylee Tuck, the Republican who led the House bill, cited the two transgender high school athletes in Connecticut who set state records in sprinting. 

Gabilondo pointed to the biological differences between trans and cis women.

“There a difference between someone who is born and designated a biological woman, and then remains a female,” said Gabilondo, “And someone who is… not designated as female from the beginning, but then later decides to recognize their gender and take steps… to change their physicality to conform to a female body.” 

Other proponents of the ban, such as Florida State Representative Jason Shoaf, have claimed an individual’s transgender status provides an unfair advantage in sports.

“This is wokeness versus science, and it’s time for common sense to come back into the room,” said Rep. Shoaf in the House hearing. 

Soto explains the difference between male and female athletes.

“Natural males, on average, have an advantage in performance in athletics of about 10 to 12 percent over women in some athletic disciplines, not all. This is attributed to differences in levels of testosterone,” she said. 

This 10 percent advantage is reduced after taking testosterone-lowering treatment for 12 months, according to Soto.

“Studies in transwomen show that lean mass and strength decline by about 10% after 12 months on androgen blockers,” she said. “The truth is that more evidence is needed on both sides to establish fair practices and regulations in women’s sports, and this is mostly relevant to elite sports.”

Soto also argued that there are physical differences even among cis athletes.

“Every sport requires different talents and anatomies for success. However, trans athletes vary in athletic ability just like cis gender athletes,” she said. “An individual’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance.  Multiple biological characteristics make up an individual sex and they may not align as the typical male or female version of what they are expected to be.” 

While the process varies based on each individual, Castillo explained how HRT affected some transgender athletes she knows.

“I’ve actually been talking to another one or two trans people who are in sports,” said Castillo. “They have to actually be on HRT for about a year, during which in that year they cannot be training. And then after that year, they can start training again.”

Castillo personally noticed the physical effects of estrogen therapy since starting last year.

“I’ve been on HRT for about a year come August. I’ve definitely noticed a lot of differences,” she said. “It’s hard to do push-ups now.”

Castillo said she feared coming out as trans while practicing martial arts due to the physicality of the sport. 

“There’s a physical aspect of it… [with] punching and kicking and all that. So, I was worried [people would say] you just want to pretend to be a girl so you can fight all the girls,” said Castillo. “That’s such a bad strategy to me and I was like, why would you go through like a year of hormones and… stigma?”

Castillo also argued against the accusation of harming women.

“There are men in the world right now who just beat a woman for no reason,” said Castillo. “It’s not like you need to pretend to be a woman to do that.”

Gabilondo agreed that the likelihood of an athlete going through transition for the competitive advantage is unlikely. 

“We still live in such a world where being a woman is criticised and discounted,” he said. “I can’t think that there would be many males who would go through with that just to compete in an event.”

However, Gabilondo also noted that there are no accepted standards for choosing to identify as transgender.

“It raises this question of how do you police the sincerity of someone’s gender identity,” said Gabilondo. “I think that a lot of the supporters of trans rights avoid it, because I don’t think there’s a good answer… I do think that if promoters of trans rights want to advance, they have to figure out how.” 

Beyond the debate of physical differences, Castillo said the issue comes down to overall acceptance of trans people.

“If kids want to play soccer in high school, they should be allowed to,” said Castillo. “Athletics, especially those active elements for years, can really help a kid grow themselves, gain confidence and build friendships. All those things are especially hard when you’re trans.”

She explained how competing is also a way for athletes to find motivation and connect with the wider community of their sport.

“Martial arts [has] the competition aspect, the sparring people from different schools. That’s when you get to really put everything you’ve been training into practice,” said Castillo. “It’s a whole extra experience you can’t exactly simulate. And I don’t get to experience that because I’m trans.” 

Soto agreed that collegiate and high school sports are about more than competition.

“There is a huge difference between elite sports and sports in schools,” she said. “School sports should promote inclusivity, team spirit, goal setting and well-being. Even [though] competitiveness [is] a part of the culture of sports, it still needs to be inclusive.”

Castillo argued that those who want to protect and empower women are not genuinely concerned about equality. 

“A part of me wants to say I understand… the argument to ‘protect women’s sports,’” said Castillo. “So pay women athletes the same as you pay men athletes. There’s a women’s football league, but people don’t pay millions and millions of dollars for ads for women’s football. So protecting women’s sports is just a front. That’s just the thing they say so they can have… virtue or character to their transphobia.”

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