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Politics / Issues

Student Athlete Bills Are Latest In Anti-Trans Attacks, Critics Say

A group of people holding trans, pride and nonbinary flags poses in front of the batting cages at a local park where they play softball.
Daylina MillerWUSF Public Media
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The Gay Agenda is a softball team out of Pasco Pride that allows players of all gender identities to join.

Bills in the Florida House and Senate would prevent transgender students from playing on the school sports team that matches their gender identity.

It's the second inning, and members of "The Gay Agenda" softball team are taking turns stepping up to bat at Heritage Park in Land O' Lakes. Several team members say they're not particularly good, but they're playing to have fun and build community.

The team accepts everyone, regardless of their gender identity. And they are concerned about bills in the Florida Legislature that could make it harder for transgender youth to get into sports like softball.

The two bills, quickly making their way through the Florida House and Senate, would inhibit trans youth from playing sports at the high school and college level. They’re two of about 30 bills in 20 states being considered that would limit or prohibit trans athletes from competing in women's sports.

Florida Lawmakers Advance Bill To Block Transgender Athletes From Women's, Girls' School Sports

"It just makes me sick to my stomach. It's just another obstacle that they're throwing up when we should be making progress,” said Heather St Amand, a Pasco Pride board member who has a transgender child.

“They're trying to send us backwards, they're trying to send my kid backwards,” St Armand said.

The Florida High School Athletic Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association already have policies in place to accommodate transgender athletes. This bill would effectively override that, forcing trans students, and trans girls in particular, to play on the school team that corresponds with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Critics of the bills say they could lead to schools requesting verification of sex from a student's doctor, which could mean invasive genitalia exams and more.

Rep. Kaylee Tuck, who sponsored one of the bills, said it will protect "biological women" from athletes with unfair advantages.

But Simone Chriss, an attorney for Southern Legal Counsel, said that's absurd.

"The purported justification for these anti-trans athlete bills is to protect cisgender female athletes by preventing transgender female athletes, who they incorrectly refer to as 'biological boys,’ from stealing opportunities, successes, and scholarships from them.” Chriss said.

“This ignores the reality of the situation, which is that the Florida High School Athletic Association has allowed transgender youth to play sports on the teams in accordance with their gender identities for almost 10 years and that policy has resulted in not one single issue in Florida. The bill sponsors themselves cannot point to a single problem or harm caused by transgender youth in the entire state over the past decade that would justify passing a law to 'protect' cisgender girls. These bills do no more than marginalize, stigmatize, and humiliate transgender youth."

Chriss points out that even if the lawmakers can't understand the harm these bills could do to trans youth, they do understand money.

North Carolina lost millions of dollars in 2016 when the NCAA pulled championship tournament games out of the state after a discriminatory bill was signed into law forcing transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. The law also excluded gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide anti-discrimination protections.

Myndee Washington, the parent of a non-binary teenager who plays on the Gay Agenda softball team in Pasco County, points out that a lot of children interested in playing sports are already be on puberty blockers, a reversible treatment that keeps their bodies from developing until they’re old enough to make more permanent medical decisions.

"So we're not talking about a fully, you know, formed 18-year-old boy suddenly deciding ‘I want to be competitive on a girl's team,’" Washington said. "It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my entire life."

Izzy St Amand, a transgender 17-year-old, said lawmakers are taking advantage of people who are not informed about trans issues and trans bodies under the guise of keeping sports fair.

“They're feeding them lies about like, ‘oh, trans people, they're getting an advantage that they shouldn't be getting,’” Izzy said.

"It takes a good two seconds of research to figure out that when people transition and they start hormone therapy, their muscles and their bodies, they change to be essentially equal in terms of physical strength and ability, with the same sex that they're playing with."

Reed Washington, a 17-year-old non-binary member of the softball team, uses both he and they pronouns. When they step up to the plate as a catcher, they stand out against the red clay dirt and batting cages with their long pink hair, pearl necklace and gummy bear earrings.

For non-binary people, there’s no “fitting in” to either the men or women’s teams.

"I think it opens up like the larger question like, why do we have these sports that are separated?" Reed Washington said. "I mean, we've gotten to a place in society where like, the decisions have been made, like separate but not equal is not okay."

They said ultimately, these bans are not about sports at all, but much like the bathroom bills in years past, they are the newest attack on trans rights.

“It's a constant barrage of attacks on trans youth, you know. whether it's bathrooms — it moves on to something else and now we're talking about sports,” said Elena Palermo, the president and founder of PFLAG-Wesley Chapel, an organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families and allies.

“Kids don't play these sports to beat each other. That's not the purpose of them. It's a skill-building exercise for their futures — working with other people and communicating and all these things. But we're going to just punish them for being trans,” said Quint Palermo, who’s transgender.

Chriss said even if the bills pass the fight will continue.

"If these bills go into law, they will undoubtedly be challenged under Title IX and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and they will not pass constitutional or statutory muster," Chriss said. "They will fail under heightened scrutiny because they carve out transgender students for differential, discriminatory treatment on the basis of their sex assigned at birth, and there is simply no legitimate justification for it.

“This is an utter waste of time and resources in a state where we should be focusing on much more important things that will actually help children rather than causing further harm to a marginalized subset of transgender students who already face so many obstacles and barriers."

As the softball game wraps up, no one knows the exact score. They stopped keeping track at some point.

It was never about the numbers, but the camaraderie, and good old fashioned exercise. Members of both teams line up to fist bump one another while calling out refrains of “Good game!”

The Gay Agenda makes sure to hand out for online petitions against the trans youth athlete bills.

They just want lawmakers to allow kids to be kids — and play.

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