Florida lawmakers moved closer to requiring transgender athletes to undergo testosterone or genetic testing — as well as submit to having their genitalia examined — to participate on sports teams in public schools and colleges.
The proposal in Florida, approved overwhelmingly Wednesday by the state's Republican-led House, is part of a continuing national debate over transgender rights, including access to restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities. A companion bill in the Florida’s state Senate awaits another committee hearing.
The latest battleground is in the arena of school athletics.
Supporters asserted that the measure was about acknowledging biological and scientific differences between males and females, contending that it was about fairness and retaining a level playing field in competitive sports for student athletes born as girls.
Allowing biological males to compete in women's sports diminishes the protections and opportunities guaranteed by Title IX, the 1972 federal doctrine that barred discrimination against women in school programs, including sports, said Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka.
“It’s about giving women and girls an even chance to succeed," said Persons-Mulicka, who had gone to college on a tennis scholarship.
The passions that unfolded in Florida's statehouse marked the latest battle in a national culture war over LGBTQ rights.
“You call it policy, and I call this bill about humanity,” Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner said as she wept on the House floor in opposition. “You know the harm, you know the danger."
The Florida proposal mirrors an Idaho law, the first of its kind when enacted last year, that is now mired in legal challenges.
If signed into law, the Florida measure would ban transgender women from playing on teams designated for biological females. But critics contend that the proposal is unnecessary and would harm transgender children already struggling with their gender identity.
Just weeks ago, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican who may be considering a run for president in 2024, issued a pair of executive orders limiting participation in women's and girl's sports teams to biological females.
She did so amid pushback from conservative groups decrying her partial veto of a measure sent to her by South Dakota lawmakers. She asked lawmakers to rewrite the bill so it could survive court challenges, but that effort died.
In recent weeks, Republican governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee signed similar measures into law.
Such legislation cropping up across the country prompted the NCAA earlier this week to warn that it could consider discrimination in its decision about where to hold championship contests.
“Inclusion and fairness can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport,” the collegiate sports board said in its statement that did not mention any state by name.
The NCAA currently requires transgender women to get drug treatment to lower their testosterone levels before they can compete in women’s sports, which is also a policy favored by the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected," the organization said.
Bill opponents warned of economic consequences, citing potential repercussions as in North Carolina when it plunged into a debate over transgender people's access to bathrooms. They cited a 2017 Associated Press study that estimated that the state's so-called "bathroom bill" would cost the state $3.8 billion over a dozen years.
A settlement in 2019 prohibited North Carolina from barring transgender people from using bathrooms that conformed to their gender identity.
The bill approved by the Florida House would resolve questions about a student athlete's biological gender by allowing schools to ask the athlete to confirm her reproductive anatomy, which can be done during a routine physical. It could also require the student to undergo genetic testing or have testosterone levels measured.