Florida’s Legislature is poised to ban transgender girls and women — kindergarten through college-age — from competing throughout the state with cisgender female teammates.
“There is a real danger this will pass in Florida,” said Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s state director of Transgender Equality.
Companion bills are being “fast-tracked” through the Florida House and Senate, Duncan said.
“Both of these bills are attacking transgender girl athletes, prohibiting them from the opportunity to play sports that align with their gender identity,” she said.
The Senate version (S2012), called by Republican sponsor Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, the “Promoting Equality of Athletic Opportunity Act,” would require “certain athletic teams or sports sponsored by certain educational institutions be designated on the basis of students' biological sex” and prohibit “athletic teams or sports designated for female students from being open to male students.”
The House version (H1475), co-sponsored by seven Republicans, goes further, “requiring the school or institution to request a certain health examination and consent form or another statement from the student's health care provider to verify the student's biological sex under certain circumstances.”
Duncan explained: “The onus on the transgender athlete is to go through a number of review boards and committees to ensure they meet all the standards set forth by the Florida High School Athletic Association.”
The Florida High School Athletic Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) each have policies to accommodate trans athletes, according to WUSF Public Media, but “this bill would preempt those policies in Florida.”
Tuesday afternoon, Equality Florida held a Tampa news conference against the bill featuring the local stepfather of a 10-year-old transgender girl.
“My stepdaughter tried a few different sports and she said ‘I want to try gymnastics.’ So we went to a very large gymnastics facility in the Tampa Bay area, which I won’t call out, and we signed her up. We spent a lot of money but this is what she wanted,” Martin McLellend said.
“My wife and I had a conversation of ‘Do we talk to the owners and tell them that she’s transgender?’ Ultimately, we decided that we would,” McLellend said. “The owner, after talking with my wife, said, ‘She will never compete.’ That was his comeback. ‘She will never compete.’ And my wife said, ‘Well, is she welcome here?’ He said he needed to talk to his wife and think about it. And they went over it and the next day he called my wife back and they refunded all of our money. And they washed their hands of it.”
Tearfully, McLellend continued:
“And so we have to explain to our transgender daughter that she can’t compete. She can’t be a part of a sports group because she’s considered different than everybody else. Thankfully, she has an awesome school and awesome teachers who have embraced her. And they have taken care of her.”
He pleaded with the Legislature not to pass the bill. “Not only is this stuff hurtful, but it’s harmful. It’s harmful. So I’m here advocating for my stepdaughter and all the transgender youth that might be out there. And we just ask you to consider dropping this bill to protect our youth and let them play.”
The proposed Florida ban is among more than 80 anti-transgender bills introduced in state legislatures since Joe Biden became president, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.
“This is an orchestrated national effort to marginalize transgender athletes,” said Duncan, who has two adult children.
On Monday, The New York Times published a front-page story titled “Transgender Girls in Sports Are New G.O.P. Culture War.”
“It has been brought about by a coordinated and poll-tested campaign by social conservative organizations like the American Principles Project and Concerned Women for America, which say they are determined to move forward with what may be one of their last footholds in the fight against expanding L.G.B.T.Q. rights,” wrote Times national politics reporter Jeremy W. Peters.
The National Institutes of Health in 2017 estimated that one in every 250 adults, or almost one million Americans, identify as transgender.
Dr. Dana Beyer of Chevy Chase, Maryland, a retired ophthalmic surgeon and longtime trans activist, makes clear that “the most important point about this [conservative political movement] is that trans people in sports are not a problem.”
“Making it into a problem is just trying to find a solution for a problem that doesn't exist,” said Beyer, a national board member of A Wider Bridge, a North American organization that seeks to expand LGBT inclusion in Israel. “The vast majority of people who play sports are doing it to have fun.”
Dr. Dana Beyer, a retired ophthalmic surgeon and longtime trans activist. Submitted photo.
Beyer, part of a Washington Psychiatric Society team that in 2012 convinced the American Psychiatric Association to declassify being transgender as a mental disorder, believes it’s relatively easy for far-right conservatives to seize the sports issue because so many people still know so little about being trans.
“Trans people have the brain sex of one sex and the genital sex of the other. That's what distinguishes them. That's what it comes down to. The problem in our society is that people equate sex and gender with genitals. That's always been the issue. It is still the issue. I think we've made progress by having people say trans women are women, trans men are men,” Beyer said.
“Unfortunately, many people either haven't been educated or are willfully ignorant — or because of their own sexual desires — don’t see it that way. And I know a lot of gay men for whom being gay is really only about penises, and they don't really want to hear about anything else, which is sort of unfortunate,” she said.
The move to ban trans girls and women from school athletics is based on the premise that they have an unfair competitive advantage over cisgender girls and women.
“In some respects, if you talk to the athletes themselves, they'll tell you they believe they are in worse shape than they would have been had they just been cis girls from the get-go,” according to Beyer.
“That doesn't get said enough. I've had that experience — and many others who are far better athletes than I've ever been. And it makes sense. Because when I hear the opposition talk about ‘Well, if you go through male puberty, you have male bone structure, male bone density and all that, and then you have the muscular structure which is on these larger bones, which gives you more leverage, etc.’ — building up muscle and then losing it puts you at a disadvantage.”
Beyer, who has two adult sons, said she knows this from personal experience.
“I used to run marathons before I blew out my knees. I ran marathons under the effects of testosterone, and then I transitioned and kept running marathons. My time dropped by 30 minutes just by doing that,” she said. “I could feel the difference. It was a huge struggle because when you've been on estrogen for a year — worse at two years, worse even at three years — your muscle mass decreases and your fat redistributes, so the leveraging of your larger, denser bones loses its impact.”
It’s important to talk about the trans experience and clear up cis people’s misconceptions, Beyer said.
“When I transitioned, I said to my parents, ‘Do you have any questions?’ And my father's question was, ‘Well, are you still a doctor?’
“I told him, ‘I haven't had brain surgery, Dad, and I’ve even gotten my diploma changed to my new name so we’re good there.’
“He's a very smart guy. After I said that to him, he laughed. But this was something that was emotional to him, right? And he didn't know because he hadn't done any research on this. So it was a reasonable question.”
Beyer acknowledges she runs “counter to the ‘official dogma’ of the trans community, which is that sports is a human right and everybody should be able to participate, and trans women are women, therefore they can participate on the girls' team.”
“I don't accept that 100%. I believe that if you’ve undergone puberty blockers and then cross-sex hormones, then yes, there's no question you are physiologically identical to the CIS girls. That should be a no-brainer.”
But she adds: “If you’ve gone through a male puberty, and now you’re a sophomore in high school or a junior in high school, you can't simply say ‘I'm a girl and I want to play on the girls' team.’ You have to play by the rules … You are at a physiological advantage and you should not compete. It’s unfair.
“I believe, and people can argue with me, I believe we are where we are today as far as acceptance goes in this country because we always tried to be fair. I think gay people are where they are because they always try to be fair. Remember, we always used to say, ‘We don't want special rights. We want equal rights.’ Equal rights mean we should not be able to take this innate biological advantage and use it to win a sports competition.”
“Do you remember in the Olympics, were there men complaining that Michael Phelps had an unfair advantage because of an incredible wingspan? Because of incredible skill in the pool? Nobody complained and said it was unfair or that he should be in a separate lane or a separate competition,” said Ennis, a trans woman and longtime mainstream journalist.
“What about Elena Delle Donne? She's a WNBA player. She's very tall. She's quite muscular. But nobody puts her in a separate category. Usain Bolt runs faster than almost anyone on the planet, but no one's saying, ‘Well, it's not fair for him to compete.’ The problem is the misogyny,” Ennis said. “The problem is that this is not directed at trans men, it’s directed at trans women and trans girls because they're perceived to be boys and men, and they are perceived to be rejecting the almighty male figure.”
Ennis said the issue of physical advantage has been turned upside down. “Anybody who doesn't think that advantage is an important part of sports doesn't understand sports.”
“Every team, every competitor, every athlete wants an advantage over someone else so that they can win. That's why they train. That's why they work so hard. That's why they are trying to be their best,” she said.
“Now the question is, ‘Is their advantage disqualifying?’ What the research so far shows is that yes, so far, there was a big difference between an athlete who is not on any kind of medical intervention and an athlete who is. I can tell you from just trying to carry a box or opening a jar of pickles, I am not the person I was when I started hormones 11 years ago. My body has changed. My body is not the same as it was, and I don't have the same body fat or strength that I did when I was living, pretending to be a man.”
Ennis, the widowed mom of three children in their mid-teens and early 20s, said that like most parents, she wants her kids “to win everything.”
“But I also have been telling them since they were very little that life is not fair and sometimes you lose. And by losing, we learn something. We gain something.”
She is outraged that trans people, especially children, have become political pawns of the latest Republican culture war.
“This is just a bogeyman that they set up to rile up their base, to win elections and to have someone to hate.”
Ennis said young trans athletes are “not transitioning to win” in high school and college sports.
“They're not transitioning to beat girls or because they're bad at being a boy or because they're inferior and they want to be superior,” Ennis said. “This is about sports as a human right. This is about teamwork. Being your true self, giving everything you have, to do the best you can.
“I'm no athlete,” she continued. “I was a terrible, uncoordinated athlete as a child. But I tried. I gave it my 100% best effort, and that's what we are asking all the parents, and all the sports associations to allow trans athletes to do: Let them compete to the best of their ability. Putting trans girls in a boys league or in a boys' competition is ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense because they're not boys.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBT issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald.