JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As he inked his name to a controversial bill banning transgender female athletes from competing on high-school girls’ and college women’s sports teams, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would stand up to corporations and athletic organizations, like the NCAA, that have threatened backlash over the ban.
“They are not going to dictate the policies in this state,” DeSantis said, flanked by Republican lawmakers and student-athletes at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville. “We will stand up to groups like the NCAA who think they should be able to dictate the policies in different states. Not here. Not ever.”
Within an hour of DeSantis signing the bill, the Human Rights Campaign announced it intends to file a lawsuit challenging the new law.
“Gov. DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are legislating based on a false, discriminatory premise that puts the safety and well-being of transgender children on the line,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement.
The measure (SB 1028), dubbed the “Fairness In Women’s Sports Act,” makes female athletes’ eligibility for sports teams contingent on their “biological sex” on birth certificates issued “at or near the time of the student’s birth.” It mirrors legislation considered or passed this year by a number of other states with Republican-led legislatures.
“We believe that the integrity of those competitions are preserved. That these opportunities are protected. And I can tell you this, in Florida girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports. That is what we are doing and we’re going to make sure that that is a reality,” DeSantis said.
Under the measure, which is set to go into effect July 1, student-athletes who contend they are “deprived of an athletic opportunity” because of violations of the law will be able to sue their schools or colleges.
“We’re not just setting a standard, we’re also providing ways where that fairness and the equality can be enforced on behalf of our girls and our women athletes,” DeSantis said.
House Republicans attached the transgender athlete ban to a wide-ranging education bill in the waning days of the legislative session that wrapped on April 30, after the controversial proposal had stalled in the Senate as a stand-alone measure.
The Senate Democratic Caucus on Tuesday released a statement after DeSantis signed the bill into law:
“By folding the transgender ban into the charter school legislation, Republicans in Tallahassee rejected both science and reason, openly attacking vulnerable LGBTQ+ children without a single shred of evidence that a problem even exists. Not once has there been an incident or complaint in our state alleging that a transgender athlete’s participation unfairly impacted middle school, high school or college athletic competition.
“Florida’s elected leaders could better serve all our youth by understanding and taking action on the high incidences of bullying, violence, and suicidal tendencies that happen to them across this state every day, and trans youth should have no less focus. The language denigrating trans youth incorporated in this bill shows how little the Republican-led legislature regards equal treatment for all our young people.”
DeSantis was joined for Tuesday’s news conference by Connecticut track athlete Selina Soule, who has filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Association of Schools over its policy to allow transgender female athletes to compete in her sport, which she says cost her the opportunity to qualify for the New England Regional Championships.
Soule applauded the Florida bill, saying she wished more states would pass similar measures.
“This bill is about protecting the advances we’ve already made as women in this space and creating a fair opportunity to empower women to aspire and to achieve in the most fair way possible,” she said. “I only wish the rest of the country would take these obvious steps to ensure fairness and equality for women and girls like me.”
A local activist reacted to Soule’s presence at the news conference.
“For the press conference today, the governor had to bring somebody down from Connecticut to talk about the problem because there’s nobody in Florida that had this problem that we know of,” said Jimmy Midyette with Equality Florida. “No one has reported it to us. To me this sounds like a law in search of a problem.”
DeSantis said Soule’s experience is an example of why the bill is necessary to “protect the fairness and integrity of women’s athletics.”
And he said he’s prepared to deal with the fallout.
The NCAA, the main governing body for college sports, released a statement in April saying that “only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected” for its events.
“At the end of the day, if the price of providing opportunities for all the girls throughout the state of Florida, for ensuring fair competition for them, if the price of that is that we lose an event or two, I would choose to protect our young girls every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” DeSantis said.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday from The News Service of Florida about whether future tournaments and championship games are at risk of being moved from the state.
Opponents of the bill, including Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who announced her 2022 run for governor on Tuesday, stood firm in their criticism of the measure:
“By signing a heartless ban on transgender kids in sports, Gov. Ron DeSantis is marginalizing an entire community,” Fried said. “Signing it on the first day of Pride Month is especially cruel. Florida should stand for inclusivity, equality, and liberty -- not peddling hate for political points.”
DeSantis’ signing of the bill -- and the timing -- riled LGBTQ advocacy groups.
Equality Florida, which fought the bill during the legislative session, announced that a series of rallies will be held in the state to “fight back” and “protect trans kids.”
The governor was asked Tuesday about the message he was sending by signing the legislation on the first day of Pride Month.
“It’s not a message to anything other than saying we’re going to protect fairness in women’s sports,” DeSantis responded.