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DeSantis Administration Seeks to Scuttle Challenge To Florida Transgender Athlete Law

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE --- Disputing that the law is discriminatory, the state is asking a federal judge to toss out a challenge to a ban on transgender females participating on girls’ and women’s sports teams.

Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and other defendants filed a 38-page motion Monday arguing that the challenge, filed on behalf of a Broward County transgender middle-school student identified by the initials D.N., should be dismissed.

The ban (SB 1028), passed by lawmakers in April and signed by DeSantis, was one of the most-controversial issues of this year’s legislative session. The lawsuit alleges that the ban is unconstitutional and violates a federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs.

The motion filed Monday disputed the allegations and said the state law is aimed at helping ensure athletic opportunities for biological females who want to play interscholastic or college sports.

“Men’s and women’s athletic teams, separated by sex, are more than a long-standing social custom; they protect and foster the equal opportunity of girls and women to participate in athletics,” the motion said. “Courts have long accepted that boys and men are physiologically different from girls and women, and that male athletes, if permitted to compete with, would displace and exclude female athletes.”

The attorneys for the defendants also took aim at the lawsuit’s Title IX arguments, saying the federal law has helped ensure opportunities for biological females.

“D.N. inconsistently alleges that the challenged law discriminates solely on the basis of sex and also that it discriminates solely on the basis of transgender status,” the motion to dismiss said. “Whatever the theory, D.N. has not plausibly alleged that Title IX entitles a biological male to join a female athletic team merely because the biological male identifies and presents as female. On the contrary, that result would exclude biological females from athletic participation and deny them the benefits of athletic competition, in direct violation of Title IX’s most fundamental tenets.”

But the lawsuit, filed by attorneys from the Human Rights Campaign Fund and the national law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, said the law is “part of a wave of anti-transgender bills” across the country and would “stigmatize this teenager and separate her from her peers and teammates.”

“SB 1028, ironically titled the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ has nothing to do with fairness or equality for girls or women in sports,” the lawsuit said. “By excluding transgender girls and women from girls’ sports teams and forcing them, if they want to play sports at all, to join a team that matches neither their gender identity nor their current physical status, the bill discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status in violation of the United States Constitution and Title IX.”

D.N., who is starting eighth grade, was born a biological male but started identifying as a girl at a young age. At age 11, she began hormone blockers to stop testosterone and has started receiving estrogen, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said sports have been an “essential part of D.N.’s life and education for many years” and that she plays soccer and volleyball.

“D.N. dreams of being on high school sports teams, whether it is in soccer or volleyball,” the lawsuit said. “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.”

The lawsuit names as defendants DeSantis, Corcoran, the State Board of Education, the Florida High School Athletic Association, the Broward County School Board and the Broward County schools superintendent. Filed in Fort Lauderdale, it has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Roy Altman, according to an online docket.

Along with alleging that the law violates Title IX, the complaint also contends that the ban violates constitutional equal-protection and due-process rights. It said, for example, that discrimination based on sex and transgender status violates equal-protection rights.

“The state and the defendants have no legitimate, important or compelling state interest in regulating school sports in the manner at issue here based solely on gender assigned at birth,” the lawsuit said. “Florida’s purported state interest in athletic ‘fairness’ ignores basic medical science about transgender students, as well as the impact of hormone suppressants. It also fails to take into account individuals, such as plaintiff D.N., who begin such treatments at a young age.”

But in the motion to dismiss Monday, attorneys for the defendants argued that the lawsuit “does not plausibly allege that the Legislature enacted the challenged law with a discriminatory purpose.”

“D.N. points to no evidence that animus toward transgender students, rather than a desire to exclude from female competition all biological males --- cisgender or transgender --- motivated large majorities of the Legislature,” the motion said.