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Gov. DeSantis Vs. YouTube, And Effort To Ban Transgender Student Athletes

A screen capture of the YouTube link to a video of Gov. Ron DeSantis's Mar. 18, 2021 roundtable discussion on COVID-19. YouTube said claims made in the video “contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities.”
A screen capture of the YouTube link to a video of Gov. Ron DeSantis's Mar. 18, 2021 roundtable discussion on COVID-19. YouTube said claims made in the video “contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities.”

YouTube takes down a video of Gov. DeSantis and controversial health policy experts, saying it spread misinformation about kids and masks to stop COVID-19. The governor says it’s another example of what he calls Big Tech stifling free speech. Plus, lawmakers advance a ban on transgender student athletes.

On Mar. 19, Gov. Ron DeSantis held what he called a “Roundtable Discussion on Public Health.” He invited four doctors to participate as he asked them questions. The four have been supporters of the governor’s pandemic strategy of re-opening the economy in the spring and re-opening schools.

The roundtable lasted nearly two hours but it was this statement regarding one panelist, and a question to another by the governor about 25 minutes into the discussion, that has sparked two controversies:

"Dr. Gupta mentioned about not putting masks on kids. It's not effective. It's not necessary. Martin Kulldorff, do you agree, in school, there's no need for them to be wearing face masks?"

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Earlier this month, YouTube pulled down the video over the comments that were made about children and masks. YouTube said it removed the video because it included “content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities.”

On Monday, the governor struck back.

"They say it's misinformation, even though Google and YouTube routinely host conspiracy theory videos ranging from the cause of the 9/11 attacks to the role that 5G networks play in causing COVID-19," DeSantis said.

He pointed to guidance from the World Health Organization in December that said children 5 and under should not wear masks and the decision about mask wearing for children between 6 and 11 years old should be based on several factors.

Those factors, which the governor did not mention, include how well those children can appropriately wear a mask and settings, such as "households with elderly relatives, or schools." Neither did the governor mention the WHO's guidance for children 12 and older, who "should follow the same principles as for adults."

"It's very clear that children are, in fact, at risk from COVID-19," said Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, professor and chief of the division of community and societal pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Jacksonville, and president of the International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health.

DeSantis, "was willing to put children into harm's way," said Goldhagen, with the suggestion they not wear masks.

"So he's willing to sacrifice our children, which is a harsh statement to make. But it's a statement that I think is evidence-based. Masks work. They work in children as well as adults, and they do stop the spread," Goldhagen said.

The action by YouTube, and its parent company Google, opens a new front in the governor’s fight with social media technology firms like Twitter and Facebook. In January, he said his top legislative priority this year was to prevent censorship of conservatives on social media. A bill under consideration would level state fines against companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google if they block users and political candidates.

In criticizing YouTube's decision this week, the governor said it brought up this question: "Whether scientific consensus is something that we want to be governed by in terms of what information is allowed to be out there."

"There is a role for scientific inquiry and for this debate," said Goldhagen. "But that really is the arena dependent." And what does Goldhagen consider the appropriate arena? Not social media, or a governor's roundtable. "The debate for scientific discussion happens in peer reviewed journals and in presentations that happen in a professional environment."

Transgender Student Athlete Ban

This week the Florida House passed a controversial bill banning transgender athletes from participating in women’s and girls' scholastic sports.

Supporters of the bill say its aimed at maintaining the competitive balance in women’s sports. Republican Kaylee Tuck is the bill's sponsor.

"There are inherent biological differences between men and women. The 'Fairness in Women’s Sports Act' supports women and girls by ensuring they have the same opportunities as men and boys to showcase their skill, strength and other athletic abilities," she said during a House discussion Mar. 17.

Critics call the bill a thinly-veiled attempt to marginalize already vulnerable transgender kids.

“This bill would only marginalize and demonize the transgender community. If anything, this bill would create more unfairness," said Democrat Marie Woodson during the March hearing.

The legislation is part of a national effort on the part of Republican state lawmakers to remove transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports. Florida is one of at least 30 states debatingthis kind of legislation.

The House bill states that female sports teams in Florida are specifically for cisgender women and girls while also creating a path for handling gender disputes by requiring a medical professional to verify a student’s sex. The law would apply to students in K-12 and higher education.

The Florida Roundup called and emailed the bills' sponsors to appear on the program but did not hear back.

"We're concerned about these bills," said Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality at Equality Florida. "What makes them so harmful is they're truly a flawed solution, looking for a nonexistent problem."

Freelance journalist Britni de la Cretaz added, "when we talk about trans-inclusion in sports, what we're often centering on is asking cisgender people how they feel about trans people participating rather than centering the impacts that transgender inclusion would have on transgender kids who are the most vulnerable."

Only 11 athletes have gone through Florida High School Athletic Association's documentation process since 2013 according to the Sun Sentinel. Supporters have admitted that transgender athletes participating in sports isn’t currently a problem, but the bill seeks to be “proactive” in preventing one.

“This bill is strictly to preserve the safety, integrity, fairness and competitiveness of women’s sports so that women do not become sideline spectators of their own sports,” said Rep. Tuck during House debate Wednesday.

Duncan called that a "false premise." She said, "It's not about fairness. This is about a culture war to erase the transgender community. We know these bills are an embarrassing overreach. They're extreme. They're unnecessary and illegal because they open so many Pandora boxes."

For example, she pointed to a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling defining sex discrimination to include gender identity. Duncan also believes these bills would violate Title XI, the federal civil rights education law banning sex discrimination in school and any education program that receives federal money.

De la Cretaz thinks a provision in the House-approved bill allowing for a health care examination of "the student's reproductive anatomy" also is a source of legal challenge.

"We are asking parents to subject their children to sexual abuse in order to play the sport that they love," de la Cretaz said.

A senate panel signed off on a different version of the bill in late March. Language in the bill approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee says athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls may not be open to students of the male sex. The Senate plan includes an exception for “persons who transition from male to female” if they meet certain conditions, such as specified testosterone levels.

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Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.