Florida Republicans send sports transgender bill to governor

Florida Republicans moved to ban transgender girls and women from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes born as girls, sending the proposal to Gov. Ron DeSantis and escalating a national culture war over transgender rights.

The measure approved by the GOP-led Legislature Wednesday stripped some of the most contentious elements from a proposal approved by the House two weeks ago.

Provisions removed included a requirement that transgender athletes in high schools and colleges undergo testosterone or genetic testing, as well as submit to having their genitalia examined.

The latest iteration of the legislation retained an underlying principle asserted by the bill's supporters: Biological and scientific differences between males and females made it unfair for athletes born as boys to compete on teams for girls and women.

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"The message that the bill sends is an ugly message of exclusion, telling trans kids that who they are is not OK and that they need to change who they are," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who dismissed the effort as mean spirited.

But supporters in the Senate saw it differently.

"This is a pro-female, pro-woman bill," said Sen. Keith Perry, a Republican.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, who carried the proposal in the Senate, said there was no intent to do harm to transgender children, but to recognize the physiological differences between the sexes and to give girls and women an equal opportunity to excel in sports.

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"We’re not trying to make them feel rejected," Stargel said.

Florida was the latest state to wade into the battle over transgender rights.

Earlier Wednesday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, signed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in female sports in middle and high schools and colleges.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, another Republican, has similar legislation on his desk.

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Idaho was the first state to ban such a law but it remains mired in legal challenges.

The national effort prompted the NCAA earlier this month to warn schools that it would consider moving championship events out of states that adopt discriminatory policies.

The Florida High School Association allows "all eligible students should have the opportunity to participate in interscholastic athletics in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s birth certificate and/or records."

A separate Senate proposal stalled in committee, prompting House Republicans to muscle through another attempt in the waning days of the legislative session that is scheduled to adjourn Friday.