Despite widespread protests, and after months of heated debate on the issue, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill yesterday (Tuesday) - at a public bill signing event in Jacksonville, Florida - to make it illegal for transgender athletes to compete or participate in women's and girls' scholastic sports.
Hailed by DeSantis as a protective measure for women and girls, the Fairness in Women's Sports Act means that a school-sponsored athlete cannot participate in women's or girls' sports unless they were assigned female at birth.
In Florida, girls are going to play girls’ sports, and boys are going to play boys’ sports - Governor DeSantis
He claims that sport will now be based on "biology, not ideology" and that the law is necessary to preserve the integrity of school sports. However, the law does not ban female athletes from playing on men and boys' teams. If an athlete believes that a school has violated the law (perhaps by allowing a transgender athlete a spot on a team), they may take legal action against the school for being "deprived of an athletic opportunity".
Details such as how the law - which comes into effect on 1st July in secondary schools, high schools and universities (but not elementary schools) - will actually be enforced are not yet clear. Will athletes have to show their birth certificates? There's been no definitive answer on this, despite all the noise around the law itself.
Supporters of the legislation believe that transgender athletes who were assigned male at birth could have an unfair biological advantage over fellow athletes who were assigned female at birth.
Critics of the new provision, including LGBTQ activists, say that the law is not only discriminatory but also unnecessary. Carlos Smith, Florida's Democrat state representative who identifies as Latino and gay, said that it's appalling, transphobic, and is putting kids at risk for no reason. And the HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, has plans to challenge the new provisions in court, stating on Twitter that they will be filing a lawsuit to "block this arbitrary, discriminatory ban".
The timing of the new bill seems strange, as in the US as a whole, pro-equality legislation seemed to be moving on apace under President Biden. The President, in fact, signed an executive order on his first day in office that was aimed at preventing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. This latest Florida development is, on the face of it, a direct rebuttal to this pro-equality move.
As Pride Month begins, and as President Biden urges Congress support for the Equality Act (said to be the most pro-LGBT bill in US history), it'll be interesting to see how this apparent anomaly fares.