Florida Bans Trans Women From Women’s Sports on First Day of Pride Month

Jun 1, 2021

Governor Ron DeSantis visited Jacksonville Tuesday to sign a controversial bill banning trans girls and women from girls and women’s sports. The ban comes on the first day of LGBTQ Pride month, but DeSantis denied the ban had anything to do with discrimination. 

“It’s not a message to anything, other than that we’re going to protect fairness in women’s sports. We believe that it’s important to have fairness in the competition, and we believe it’s important that they’re able to compete on a level playing field.”

DeSantis spoke at Trinity Christian Academy, which forbids homosexuality among its students. 

DeSantis shared the stage with Selina Soule, a former high school track star from Connecticut who has spoken out against trans women in women’s sports after she said she missed out on scholarship opportunities when two trans women outran her. Soule is currently appealing a judge’s dismissal of her lawsuit seeking an end to trans-inclusive sports policies in her state. 

“I remember what it was like to line up for the race and get into my block, already knowing the outcome,” she said. “Those two biological males would dominate the field, leaving us girls to compete for third place and beyond.” 

There are no similar cases of trans women outrunning cisgender women in Florida. 

“We all know that men are stronger than women,” said Florida Senator Kelli Stargel, who supported the bill in Tallahassee and joined DeSantis at Tuesday’s signing. She referenced a video that DeSantis played at the signing, showing a women’s race in which a trans woman won. “I’ve always heard as a kid, you know, you run like a girl. And looking at that video, it’s evident. The trans woman who competed, or the self-identified woman, ran very differently than the others in the competition. It’s physiologically different. Men are stronger, they have bigger lung capacity, stronger muscles.” 

The science is not so clear-cut: A peer-reviewed report on the National Library of Medicine website did not support the claim that people assigned male at birth are universally stronger or faster than people assigned female at birth.

DeSantis waved away concern that business groups and sports associations would boycott Florida based on the move. 

“Just let me say very clearly, in Florida, we’re going to do what’s right. We’ll stand up to corporations; They are not going to dictate what goes on in this state. We’re going to stand up to groups like the NCAA, who think that they should be able to dictate the policy in different states. Not here; not ever.” 

The NCAA has said that it will only hold championship games in states that provide an “environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” The collegiate sports group follows the policies of the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which allows trans women to compete in womens’ sports as long as they are taking testosterone suppression therapy. 

Local responses from opponents of the ban are already coming in. 

“It is clear DeSantis and the Florida GOP are using innocent children as pawns to score political points,” said Daniel Henry, the chair of the Duval County Democratic Party. “To deny any person their dignity of self-expression, their constitutionally protected freedoms, and ability to live their life without fear of government interference, goes against the very American principles the proponents of this law claim to embrace.”

“Jacksonville is a welcoming and inclusive city governed by a human rights ordinance that bans discrimination based on gender identity and expression,” said Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Region 2 Regional Director Joshua Hicks of Jacksonville. “It’s shameful and disgusting that Governor DeSantis chose our community to sign discrimination into law on the first day of Pride Month.”

“The bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed is discriminatory, it's ultimately going be challenged in court, and all it does is harm trans athletes," said Dan Merkan, Director of Policy for JASMYN, Inc. "This cements into law discrimination that will make it harder for trans persons to be full participaints in society.”

Florida joins several other states, including Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, in signing similar bills; in some states, the bills are being challenged in court for possible violations of Title IX, a landmark law from 1972 that prevents sex discrimination in education.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.