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Proposed Law In Florida Targets Transgender Student Athletes

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Lawmakers in Florida today passed new restrictions regarding transgender athletes. The bill is similar to legislation already adopted in Idaho and several other states. It bans transgender athletes from participating in girls' sports and women's sports from elementary school to the college level. NPR's Greg Allen reports Florida's House approved the bill, despite a warning by the NCAA that it may pull championships from states that do so.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: After passing in Idaho last year, bills requiring athletes to compete on teams according to their sex assigned at birth have been adopted in at least four states and are being considered in more than two dozen others. Republican lawmakers say they're needed to protect female athletes from unfair competition. It's the latest battle in a new round of culture wars signaled by former President Donald Trump at a conservative conference in February.

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DONALD TRUMP: Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males.

ALLEN: That phrase, biological males, is a disputed term. Proponents of the law use it to refer to the sex assigned at birth. In Idaho, the law is on hold because of a suit challenging constitutional protections against discrimination. That's not deterred Florida's Legislature, where Republicans hold majorities in both chambers. In the House, GOP sponsor Kaylee Tuck said, in her view, the bill does not discriminate against transgender athletes.

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KAYLEE TUCK: The act specifically requires biological males and biological females to have separate teams based on Title IX's provisions, and it does not even mention the transgender language.

ALLEN: In more than three hours of debate Tuesday, Democrats offered a series of amendments, all of which were rejected. Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith noted that the organization that governs high school sports in Florida has had a policy in place for transgender athletes since 2013.

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CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH: Since then, we've never heard of any problems. No trans students have ever complained about their policies. We've never heard of cisgender students complaining about those policies. We haven't heard any complaints from parents.

ALLEN: Tuck, the bill's sponsor, said she's received emails from parents concerned about the issue.

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TUCK: This was a well-thought-out bill that was based on issues that we were seeing across the country. And just because there isn't a designated problem here doesn't mean we shouldn't be proactive in protecting women's sports.

ALLEN: Along with requiring them to compete on teams that align with their sex assigned at birth, the bill says athletes must undergo physical exams and possible hormonal testing to resolve disputes. It would apply not just to athletes in high school and college but also to children in elementary and middle school. Democrats offered amendments to exempt kids from the bill without success, an outcome that left Representative Guillermo Smith frustrated.

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GUILLERMO SMITH: They are babies. They haven't done anything to you or us or any other children. Let the kids play.

ALLEN: This week, as Florida's House prepared to take up the bill, the NCAA warned it will pull championships from locations that adopt laws targeting transgender athletes. In a statement, the NCAA said it, quote, "firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student athletes to compete in college sports." In Florida's House, the bill's sponsor called the possibility the state would lose out on hosting NCAA championships speculation. Representative Chip LaMarca had a stronger reaction.

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CHIP LAMARCA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I've held my tongue on these conversations about holding the NCAA up as some kind of moral compass in this body. We know exactly what they'll do if this law passes - the same thing they do for our student athletes right now, and that's nothing. They treat them like free labor.

ALLEN: The bill now moves to Florida Senate, where opponents hope the economic impact of the measure may sway some Republicans.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.