Florida on Tuesday became the largest US state to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports, part of a campaign in Republican-led statehouses assailed as provocative and discriminatory by equal rights activists.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, signed the bill into law on the first day of Pride Month, which celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.
DeSantis signed the bill at an event at a Christian school in Jacksonville where he was flanked by several teenage women athletes. He said the law was needed to ensure fairness for women participating in sports across the state.
“I can tell you this: in Florida, girls are going to play girls’ sports and boys are going to play boys’ sports,” the governor said. “We are going to go based off biology, not based off ideology when we are doing sports.”
Supporters of the sports bill say transgender female athletes have an unfair advantage, having been designated male at birth but having since transitioned.
The Florida legislation had been rushed through the state legislature as an attachment to a charter school bill. It was approved over the objection of Democrats and civil rights advocates who called the banning of transgender girls and women from sports discriminatory and accused Republicans of provocation to energize the right wing of their party.
Gina Duncan, a director at Florida Equality, an LGBTQ equal rights group, reacted on Twitter: “This is the kind of erasure that makes life more dangerous for those who are already at the highest risk of violence.” Rallies against the newly signed law were planned in five cities across Florida later on Tuesday.
To kickoff Pride Month 2021, @GovRonDeSantis signed the first anti-LGBTQ legislation to pass the FL legislature in 23 years. Let's be clear — this isn't about athletics, it's confirmation that the Governor & GOP leaders do not believe transgender people exist. (1/4)
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) June 1, 2021
The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, said it would challenge the law in court as having been based on a “false, discriminatory premise” that threatens the wellbeing of transgender children.
“Transgender kids are kids; transgender girls are girls. Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to play sports with their friends and be a part of a team,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement.
“It is a sad day for us mama bears,” said Megan Titcomb, the mother of a transgender girl who would be disallowed from playing sports under the new law.
Explaining the Florida legislature and governor’s actions to her children was “heart-breaking”.
“It’s just fairness and equality and love, but that doesn’t seem to matter. And that’s what’s really hurtful,” Titcomb said.
Some 100 bills have been introduced in more than 20 states this year that would limit transgender rights. Transgender advocates have called on businesses to boycott states that pass such laws and US corporate leaders have spoken out against them.
Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia have passed similar legislation and South Dakota’s governor has signed an executive order supporting a sports ban. All have Republican governors.
In April, Arkansas became the first US state to ban hormone treatments and surgeries for transgender youth, overriding a veto by Governor Asa Hutchinson and inviting legal challenges from civil rights groups that have pledged to stop it.
The Arkansas law threatens healthcare professionals with the loss of their medical licence and allows lawsuits from patients who later regret their procedures.
The month of June is designated as “Pride Month” in the US. President Joe Biden on Tuesday issued a proclamation to mark the start of the month and urged Congress to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and pointed to their eroding rights in many states.
Trump, Biden’s predecessor, did not recognize Pride Month during his four years in office.