Transgender Athletes Fight Florida’s New Ban – CBS Miami

MIAMI (CBSMiami / AP) – They’ve spent months in limbo, eagerly waiting to find out how to celebrate Pride Month 2021.

They could emerge from more than a year of isolation to celebrate their identity with the rest of their community, free to live as their authentic selves. Or they would have to prepare to fight for their right to exist.

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The answer came on the first day of the month dedicated to LGBTQ + pride when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law banning transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports – a law known as “fairness.” referred to in the Women’s Sports Act “.

For South Florida athletes like Jazz Jennings and Oliver Echevarria, denying kids access to something they love is heartbreaking.

Jennings, star of the popular TLC reality show “I Am Jazz,” was the first athlete to go through the Florida High School Athletic Association’s gender inclusion process to play as a transgender athlete after his adoption in 2013. Echevarria, 15, waits for the other shoe to drop while he and other trans athletes endure a summer of uncertainty as to whether they will be able to return to their sports teams.

Jennings changed socially when she was 5 years old. She was already enthusiastic about sports and played on a co-educational soccer team.

The United States Soccer Federation banned Jennings from playing touring football for girls when she was 8 years old. They told her she could train on the girls ‘team with her friends but would have to play on the boys’ team.

She tried. But the boys teased her because she was a girl, said her mother Jeanette Jennings. She had anxiety attacks in the field where she froze and just stood there and had to be pulled.

Jennings and her family patiently escalated their case to the top tier of the U.S. Football Association and they won.

By the time Jennings got into high school and joined the girls’ college tennis team, they were prepared and filed all papers with the FHSAA before it could become a problem. Jennings declined to say which school she attended, out of concern for her family’s safety.

Jennings took hormone blockers at 11 and estrogen replacement therapy at 12 so she never went through male puberty, her mother said. A moderator presented her case and a doctor confirmed it.

“I was a little annoyed that I had to go through all of this extra process when I just wanted to play tennis,” she recently told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “At the end of the day I was allowed to. Even this type of protocol is so much better than completely banning children who just play sports and want to be accepted for who they are and what they enjoy doing. “

Without this pathway that allowed her to play, she would have been devastated, she said. Tennis enabled her to thrive and made her feel like she belonged to her teammates, she said.

“Taking away that experience because of your personality and identity – something that you cannot control – is completely unfair,” she said.

DeSantis and the bill’s sponsors argued that the act is needed to protect cisgender girls – which means their gender is the same as the sex assigned to them at birth – who they believe could be denied athletic opportunities if they would have to compete against transgender girls.

Legislative supporters, including the bill’s sponsor, Lakeland Republican Senator Kelli Stargel, said it will ensure fairness in sport.

“We all know men are stronger than women,” said Stargel. “Men are stronger. You have a bigger lung capacity, stronger muscles. “

Athletes caught in the crossfire say it is far from fair and it will harm all athletes, whether they are transgender, cisgender, or intersex, meaning they were born with one of several variations in gender characteristics.

The law contains no language about transgender or intersex athletes and leaves room for any athlete to blame for being too masculine, too strong, too fast, or simply not feminine enough. According to the allegations, the athlete would have to present his / her birth certificate “at or shortly before the birth of the student” to essentially prove his / her gender.

It’s traumatizing enough when you’ve lived your whole life as a girl. It’s even more traumatic when you’ve spent your whole life proving that you are, say the athletes.

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LGBTQ + rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign announced their intention to repeal the new law. Before they can do so, the groups must determine the nature of the legal challenge, who will be challenging the law, and who the plaintiffs will be.

There is no guarantee that these laws will be worked out before the law comes into effect on July 1st or by the start of the next school year.

Echevarria no longer competes in school teams. He dropped out of athletics in middle school because he was bullied and discriminated against both inside and outside the team as a young transgender athlete, he said.

“You don’t suit either the girls or the boys. You’re that weird middle ground where nobody knows what to do with you, ”he said. “They made me practice with the girls and they said ‘ew, lesbian’.”

He was in a social transition at the time, so he was only out with friends and a few teachers, not his family. That made it difficult to coordinate with the school about which team he could play in and what training uniforms he could wear.

Ultimately, it was the other students’ ridicule that drove him to leave the team, he said.

Almost a dozen transgender athletes have – without controversy – played on sports teams in Florida since 2013 including guidelines.

Florida is one of 16 states where high school sports associations offer guidelines allowing transgender students to join sports teams that match their gender identity, according to the website Transathlete.com, which has such guidelines.

The new law would reverse these inclusive guidelines, a move that could cost the state when sports groups like the National Collegiate Athletic Association draw championships. The NCAA has several championship events scheduled in Florida for the coming year. An NCAA boycott could cost Florida about 50 tournaments and an estimated $ 75 million over the next five years, lawmakers say.

As of 2013, only 11 high school athletes have gone through the documentation process at the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Echevarria was 13 when he came out as transgender. He wasn’t taking testosterone yet and said the other team members saw him differently because he wasn’t “exactly” like them and they didn’t really understand what it meant to be transgender.

Outside the team, classmates called him by his “dead name” – the one assigned to him at birth – and intentionally misdirected him, he said. “It was awful,” he said.

In the two years since, he has found family and community in an independent roller derby league called the Tri-County Terror. The league welcomed him with open arms and never really made a big deal about his gender, which he incredibly affirmed for his self-esteem and gender expression. Without this unconditional acceptance he would be “not here today”.

But he still can’t fully relax in the face of legislation that seeks to completely wipe people like him out of society and sport, he says. He fears that the new law could create bias even in independent leagues like his as laws affect the way things are perceived.

The league has to bring something towards him, because roller derby is a rigorous contact sport, he said. You need to make sure another player isn’t hitting them in a vulnerable area such as the chest or ribs that are more prone to injury when wearing a tie.

And he’s worried about his friends who compete on high school sports teams.

“I think it’s really ironic that people say they don’t know any transporters and that they could say that,” he said. “All of my trans friends are into sports. Every single one of them. My boyfriend who went to my school was into lacrosse and nobody knew he was trans. He was just one of the guys on the team. Most of the time you can’t even say it. “

Now the fight is on for the LGBTQ + community to protect young people and athletes who are transgender – even if LGBTQ + people should celebrate the community’s identity, said Joe Saunders, senior political director of Equality Florida.

“This is an attack we will never forget,” he said at a protest at Wilton Manors LGBTQ + port on the day DeSantis signed the law. “Equality Florida and our partners here today will celebrate Pride this year with a renewed commitment to its origins: Stand up and fight against the violence and bigotry of those in power who, without our resistance, would see our communities invisible.”

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