Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis signed the Fairness in Woman’s Sports Act (SB 1028) into law this Tuesday, a wide-ranging education bill that includes a contentious section regarding the state of transgender kids in sports. The law, which had passed both the Florida House and the Senate on April 28th, includes a key section (where it mandates that all sporting events at the high school level or a publicly-funded postsecondary school (interscholastic, intramurals, etc) must be “expressly designated” based on the “biological sex at birth of team members”.
The law, which also includes a wide array of measures regarding the educational system of Florida, explicitly creates three types of teams based on biological sex: only male, only female, or co-ed (with both male and female athletes). The bill also stipulates that while sports or teams that are designated for males might be open for female students, males are not allowed to participate in sports events designed for female athletes.
The law also states that students will be allowed to sue for damages if they are deprived of athletic opportunities or if they suffer consequences due to reporting any violation of the law. Another important aspect is that schools will also be able to ask for relief if they also suffer due to violations of SB 1028, crucially including any “athletic association or organization”.
Reactions to the Fairness in Woman’s Sports Act
This last part is vital as the NCAA has clearly stated they will hold championships only in states that provide an environment that is “safe, healthy, and free of discrimination” while adding they have a policy that allows transgender women to compete in women’s sport as long as they have been under testosterone suppression treatment for at least one year.
DeSantis has hailed the bill as a necessary measure to ensure the fairness of sporting events in schools, with the Governor saying that separating sports teams based on biological sex “is necessary to promote equality of athletic opportunities” and that “women have fought for decades to have equal opportunities in athletics, and we have to prevent those opportunities from being eroded as is happening in other states”, according to a press release published by his office.
Democrats have, as expected, condemned the move by DeSantis. With the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus issuing a statement saying that Republicans have “rejected both science and reason” saying that there has not been a single incident where it is alleged that the participation of transgender athletes has “unfairly impacted middle school, high school or college athletic competition”.
Democrats further accused DeSantis of having little regard for transgender students as they used a “language denigrating” them and accused the Republican-led administration of “openly attacking” the LGBTQ+ community in the state with the bill.
The politics over the Fairness in Woman’s Sports Act
The law signed by DeSantis is not the first one that addresses the issue of transgender athletes, with at least another six states having implemented bills that define sports gender categories exclusively on biological sex at birth. As of now, Florida joins Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia on having this type of legislation. Idaho, which also passed a similar law last year, is currently facing a lawsuit from the ACLU meaning that the law has yet to take effect.
Although the issue of transgenders in sports is setting itself to be one of the new cultural topics that deeply divide Americans, with Democrats opposing Republican bills aimed at avoiding transgender athletes to compete in a category that is other than their sex assigned at birth. The reality is a bit more complicated than that.
According to a poll made by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe that athletes should only be allowed to compete in teams that match their biological sex at birth, with 86% of Republicans, 63% of Independents, and 41% of Democrats agreeing with that opinion. In fact, even 57% of college graduates (a group that tends to be more liberal) consider that sports teams should be divided according to biological sex rather than gender identity.
DeSantis, who for now will face either Charlie Crist or Nikki Fried on his reelection campaign next year, has gained strength as a national figure for the GOP with many saying he is in a good position to launch a 2024 bid for the presidency. In order to do that, DeSantis will need to cast himself as a standard-bearer for conservative causes, a role that he has been doing quite effectively, with the governor passing a bill against Big Tech, positioning himself against mask mandates, and now passing a bill on the issue of transgenders in sports.