New lawsuit challenges Florida's transgender athlete ban

A 13-year-old Broward County soccer player and her parents are challenging a new state law that bans transgender female athletes from participating on girls’ and women’s sports teams, arguing that it is unconstitutional and "ignores basic medical science" about trans students.

The measure (SB 1028), one of the most hotly debated issues of the 2021 legislative session, will make 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."

The legislation, signed June 1 by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is similar to proposals considered or passed this year by numerous other Republican-controlled legislatures across the country.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern District of Florida, lawyers for the student identified by the initials D.N. and her parents alleged that the new law will force her to abandon "the sports that mean so much to her" because she will not be able to participate on high-school girls’ athletic teams. 

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The ban is unconstitutionally discriminatory and violates a federal law, known as Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools or education programs that receive federal money, the lawsuit said.

D.N. would be "sidelined and ostracized solely because of her gender identity" if she isn’t allowed to play on girls’ and women’s teams, lawyers with the Human Rights Campaign, a national non-profit organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, and the Arnold & Porter firm wrote in the 20-page complaint. 

According to the lawsuit, D.N. has identified as a girl since she was a young child and has participated in girls’ sports for many years. 

"D.N. dreams of being on high school sports teams, whether it is in soccer or volleyball. She cannot imagine life without these experiences and feels it would be cruel to take this opportunity away from her. D.N. has lived as a girl for years now and this is her true identity," her lawyers argued.

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Republican lawmakers tucked the transgender athlete ban into a wide-ranging education bill in an eleventh-hour move during the legislative session that ended April 30. DeSantis and other supporters maintain that the ban is necessary to prevent male athletes from having a competitive edge over female competitors.

"I can tell you this, in Florida, girls are going to play girls’ sports, and boys are going to play boys’ sports. That’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to make sure that that’s the reality," DeSantis said as he signed the bill on the first day of June’s Pride Month.

But critics contend that the ban will further isolate transgender students who are already at risk of being bullied or worse. 

D.N., referred to as "Daisy" in a news release issued Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign, takes estrogen and her testosterone levels have been suppressed for more than a year, her attorneys said in the lawsuit.

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"D.N.’s identity and development are that of a girl and she is on estrogen. She has no competitive advantage merely because of the sex assigned to her at birth. Now and when she enters high school, from an athletic perspective, she is similarly situated to her cisgender female teammates," they argued.

The state law runs afoul of Title IX and federal regulations, which do not permit "a state or locality to discriminate based solely on a person’s gender assigned to them at birth," the plaintiffs’ lawyers said. The law also violates transgender female athletes’ equal protection rights, the lawyers argued, because "it is neither tailored to the achievement of a compelling governmental interest nor substantially related to an important state interest."

"Florida’s purported state interest in athletic ‘fairness’ ignores basic medical science about transgender students, as well as the impact of hormone suppressants," the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.

Under the new law, other students who contend they are "deprived of an athletic opportunity" or suffer "direct or indirect harm" because of violations of the trangender ban will be able to sue schools or colleges.

Transgender girls "must now face the risk their participation will be subject to legal challenge," D.N.’s lawyers wrote. "Any such suit would, of necessity, require production of private medical and academic records, which in any other context would not be available to other students or those students’ families, let alone the general public."

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The law would subject D.N. "to an invasion of privacy" if she had to participate on boys’ teams and use boys’ locker rooms, although she is receiving estrogen and will continue to develop as a girl through puberty, her lawyers said.

"Her social network and support system are the girls on her team, and she would be ostracized and bullied if she were to be forced to be on a boys’ team. Compelling her to be on the boys’ team also would force her to disclose her transgender status to the entire school," they argued.

The ban violates transgender female athletes’ constitutional right to privacy, wrote D.N.’s lawyers, who are asking a judge for an injunction against the law.

The Human Rights Campaign also plans to challenge similar laws in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, according to Wednesday’s news release.

"Given the unprecedented onslaught of state legislative attacks, we have a responsibility to utilize every tool in our belt to safeguard the LGBTQ community, including suing the states that infringe upon our civil rights," said Alphonso David, the organization’s president. "On the first day of Pride Month, a moment of celebration, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill into law attacking transgender children—now, on the last day of Pride, we are sending a message to him, and all anti-equality officials, that you cannot target our community without retribution."