On the first day of Pride Month, June 1, Florida became the eighth state this year to enact a law targeting transgender student athletes — but the state and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will face a legal fight over the measure.
On the same day, leading advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced its plan to sue over the law, making the Sunshine State a legal battleground in what HRC calls the "worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history."
In a new interview, HRC President Alphonso David said it's "certainly possible" the lawsuit could reach the Supreme Court, and expressed confidence that DeSantis "will lose" what would be a high-profile case in the nation's conservative-leaning high court.
The law enacted in Florida, dubbed the "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," bars transgender athletes from participating in girls' and women's sports at public schools and colleges. DeSantis, a close ally of former President Donald Trump and a potential 2024 presidential candidate, hailed the law as "ensuring fairness in women's sports."
"Girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports," DeSantis said at a press conference as he signed the measure.
HRC will challenge the law on the grounds that it's discriminatory and lacks medical justification, said David, who joined HRC two years ago after serving as chief counsel to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"What they're seeking to do actually doesn't make any sense," David tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. "It would be one thing if you have the medical professionals saying we agree with you, but they don't."
"You also have the legal practitioners that are saying we are missing the underlying rationale for these bills in the first place," he adds. "Federal law expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ status in the areas that they're seeking to legislate."
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) said in April that it firmly supports the opportunity for transgender athletes to participate in women's and girl's sports. "Our approach — which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports — embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S.," the NCAA said.
The HRC's planned case against the law will succeed if it reaches the Supreme Court, despite the court's conservative majority and the nation's history of notable rulings against marginalized communities, David said.
"Emotionally, of course, I'm always concerned, because as a community, we have not received comprehensive protections. And in some cases, the court has decided against marginalized communities," he says.
"But intellectually, I look at the court decisions. I look at federal law. I look at our Constitution. And it would be intellectually dishonest to say in these cases that transgender people should not be protected under law," he adds.
At least 18 bills, ranging from preventing transgender girls from playing sports to erasing transgender people from school curricula, have been signed into law across nine states — Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Florida.
To account for the wave of legislation, HRC will expand its legal strategy nationwide, David said.
"We are working with our partners all over the country to not only challenge these laws in court, but also to hold the elected officials accountable — these elected officials who have advanced these bills," he said.
The bills introduced by Republican-controlled state legislatures reflect a desire to generate political support, rather than resolve a problem, David said. Indeed, the Associated Press reported in March that it reached out to two dozen state lawmakers sponsoring bills barring transgender athletes from participating in female sports and that, in almost every case, the legislators could not cite a single instance where those athletes had caused a problem.
"You ask yourself a basic question: Why, in 2021, are you looking to ban transgender girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity?" he says. "There is no crisis in Florida; there's no problem."
"The elected officials are seeking to solve nothing more than mobilizing their base on the backs of really vulnerable people," he adds.