TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Tuesday a policy banning transgender athletes from playing girls and women’s sports that opponents have condemned as deeply discriminatory against transgender athletes and students.

Dubbed the "Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” Florida’s new law establishes that women’s sports from middle school through college, including intramurals and club teams, are closed to males based on the biological sex listed on a student’s birth certificate. The measure has been widely celebrated by Republicans for “protecting the integrity” of girls athletics. Florida joined more than 20 other GOP-leaning states pushing similar ideas.

Democrats by and large disavow the policy, claiming it’s unwarranted in the state, fuels transphobia and discriminates against transgender students. At least one group is pledging to sue Florida over the legislation.

“In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports,” DeSantis said, speaking at a private school in Jacksonville.

The Republican governor made a show of signing the bill on Tuesday by highlighting a well-known example of transgender high school sprinters from Connecticut besting their competition on the track.

DeSantis, flanked by student athletes from the Jacksonville-based Trinity Christian Academy on stage, streamed a video of transgender athlete Terry Miller winning a race in 2019, then introduced one of her competitors, Selina Soule, to address the audience. Soule, a Connecticut high school track athlete who has been outspoken against allowing transgender athletes to compete, told the crowd her experience losing to transgender girls was “frustrating” and “demoralizing.”

DeSantis has signed into a law a slate of conservative-leaning bills from the GOP-led Legislature, including measures cracking down on Big Tech, loosening Covid restrictions and tightening voting rules, ahead of his reelection and possible bid for the White House in 2024.

Some 11 transgender athletes have applied since 2013-14 under the Florida High School Athletic Association’s participation policy, which allows students to petition to play sports regardless of the gender listed on their birth certificate. Democrats attempted to use this rule as an example that the law was unnecessary in Florida. The only in-state instance of transgender athletes that lawmakers could reference during session involved bowling.

Democrats on Tuesday were quick to note how DeSantis signed the legislation on the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month, a move Democratic Agriculture commissioner and likely 2022 gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried said was “especially cruel.”

“By signing a heartless ban on transgender kids in sports, Governor DeSantis is marginalizing an entire community,” Fried said in a statement. “Florida should stand for inclusivity, equality, and liberty — not peddling hate for political points.”

When asked, DeSantis said the timing behind the bill signing had nothing to do with Pride Month.

“It’s not a message to anything other than saying we’re going to protect fairness in women’s sports,” DeSantis said.

Shortly after DeSantis signed the measure, the Human Rights Campaign pledged to challenge the legislation in court, claiming it is “fueled by discriminatory intent and not supported by fact.” The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a similar law that lawmakers recently passed in West Virginia.

Read more: politico.com

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