Monarch High transgender athlete: What to know about the law at center of controversy

Legally, the participation of a transgender athlete on the girls’ volleyball team at Monarch High school seems clear cut: It’s against Florida law.

Transgender girls are not allowed to play on girls’ teams at public schools in Florida under a state law enacted in 2021. The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act bans students who were born male from playing on girls’ sports teams.

But what appears unambiguous isn’t necessarily the final word. Federal law, and regulations based on federal law, also play a role — and may protect a transgender player from discrimination based on gender identity.

It’s murky. The U.S. Department of Education said its enforcement policy is “consistent with existing law that protects students on the basis of sex, including LGBTQI+ students.” The Biden administration has also begun a rulemaking process that would guarantee transgender athletes’ ability to compete on most, but not all, sports teams.

Supporters of such laws argue they’re needed because biological differences give transgender girl and women athletes, who were identified as boys at birth, an unfair advantage in athletic competitions. Opponents have argued bans are unfair to transgender girls, and that there are few instances in which they are playing on girls’ teams.

High school athlete

The Monarch case burst onto public attention this week when Broward Schools Superintendent Peter Licata suspended or temporarily reassigned five school officials.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state Department of Education demanded “serious consequences” for those who allowed the transgender student to play girls’ volleyball.

“Under Governor DeSantis, boys will never be allowed to play girls’ sports. It’s that simple,” Cailey Myers, the agency’s communications director said in a statement. “It is completely unacceptable for the male student to have been allowed to play on a girls’ team.”

Students at the school held noontime walkouts in support of their transgender classmate and in opposition to Licata’s action against the school staff.

“Right now she’s not being treated like a human. She’s not being treated like she’s worth anything to anyone,” Jordan Campbell, captain of the volleyball team, told WTVJ-Ch. 6.

“No one had a problem with her. She was probably one of the favorites on the team that everyone loved. Everyone got along with her,” Campbell said, adding her teammate’s identity was never an issue during the volleyball season. “No one mentioned it. It’s never even been controversial whatsoever.”

Public opinion

One thing is clear: Public opinion strongly opposes allowing athletes to play on teams that don’t correspond to their gender at birth.

The 2023 edition of the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey found 69% of Americans say transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete on sports teams that conform with their birth gender. That’s up seven percentage points from 62% in 2021.

Just 26% in this year’s survey support allowing transgender athletes on teams that match their current gender identity — a decrease of eight percentage points from the 34% who felt that way two years earlier.

Gallup found support for allowing transgender athletes to play on teams that match their current gender identity:

  • Is highest among Democrats (47%) and lowest among Republicans (6%).
  • Decreased among Democrats, Republicans and independents over the past two years.
  • Went down among both Americans who know transgender people and who don’t know transgender people.

Florida law

The 2021 law declares it is state policy “to maintain opportunities for female athletes to demonstrate their strength, skills, and athletic abilities and to provide them with opportunities to obtain recognition and accolades, college scholarships, and the numerous other long-term benefits that result from participating and competing in athletic endeavors.”

The law required interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic teams or sports sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities to be designated — based on the biological sex at birth of team members — for “males, men, or boys,” “females, women, or girls,” or “coed or mixed.”

Boys’ and men’s teams can be open to girls and women, although sports or teams designated for females “may not be open to students of the male sex.”

And the biological sex is determined based on an official birth certificate if it was filed “at or near the time of the student’s birth” — precluding birth certificates changed later in accordance with a person’s gender identity.

The law allows lawsuits to obtain court orders — and damages — for people who suffer “direct or indirect harm.”

“We are going to protect fairness in women’s sports,” DeSantis said when he signed the measure into law. “We believe that it is important to have integrity in the competition, and we think it is important that they are able to compete on a level playing field.”

Federal rules

Federal law known as Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at schools and colleges that receive federal money.

President Joe Biden’s U.S. Department of Education has proposed changing the rules governing Title IX so that they would prohibit schools from automatically banning all transgender athletes from participating on teams consistent with their gender identity.

The proposed rule would allow limits on transgender athletes from participating on teams that align with their gender identity in some cases — particularly highly competitive high school and college sports.

“The proposed rule would establish that policies violate Title IX when they categorically ban transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity just because of who they are,” the Department of Education said in a fact sheet when it proposed the rule change in April.

The rule “would allow schools flexibility to develop team eligibility criteria that serve important educational objectives, such as ensuring fairness in competition or preventing sports-related injury. These criteria would have to account for the sport, level of competition, and grade or education level to which they apply. These criteria could not be premised on disapproval of transgender students or a desire to harm a particular student.”

The timetable for completing the lengthy rulemaking process — and whether it will be completed before the 2024 election — isn’t clear.

In response to questions about whether the Department of Education sees Title IX as protecting a transgender girl’s right to participate on a girl’s team without a new rule and about the status of the rulemaking, the agency’s press office emailed this statement:

“The Biden-Harris Administration remains resolute in our commitment to support all students and ensure they receive a quality education free from discrimination. The notice of proposed rulemaking for the upcoming regulations on Title IX of the Education amendments of 1972 received a historic number of comments, and the Department is working overtime to ensure that each one is thoroughly read and carefully considered.

“We are utilizing every resource at our disposal to complete this rulemaking process as soon as is practicable. In the meantime, we continue to enforce Title IX consistent with existing law that protects students on the basis of sex, including LGBTQI+ students.”

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican state senator until DeSantis picked him to head the state Education Department, denounced the proposed rule.

“The Biden Administration is attempting to bully states into a radical gender ideology that has no basis in science,” Diaz said. “As a father of young daughters, I know the importance of safeguarding sports for girls and women. Florida will continue to protect the rights of biological female students to participate in athletics without being discriminated against by an administration that has chosen to prioritize a political agenda over America’s children.”


Courts in different parts of the country have come down differently on the state laws.

The transgender volleyball player at Monarch High and her parents sued the state and school district in an effort to overturn the law. A federal judge upheld the law in early November, dismissing the student’s claim the ban is discriminatory.

In his 39-page order on Nov. 6, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman wrote that the law does not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because its “sex-based classifications are substantially related to the state’s important interest in promoting women’s athletics.”

He also ruled that the law does not violate Title IX.

Altman had temporarily placed the case on hold until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decided a case in St. Johns County involving the state’s transgender bathroom law. The entire court decided that Title IX’s reference to “sex” does not include gender identity.

Political implications

Opposition to transgender girls playing on girls’ teams has become a conservative cause in recent years.

The 2021 measure to ban transgender females from competing in girls’ and women’s sports was one of the most contentious issues of that year’s annual legislative session in Florida.

It passed almost entirely along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed and was signed into law by DeSantis, one of the earliest in a string of culture war issues embraced by DeSantis and legislative Republicans.

Over the next two years they went on to limit the way sexual orientation and gender identity were addressed in schools, restrict discussions of race and racism in schools and in employee-training programs, restrict gender-affirming care for transgender people, impose limits aimed at drag shows, and prevent transgender people from using restrooms that fit their gender identity in a range of public buildings.

Underscoring the political subtext of the issue, DeSantis signed the Florida ban — which applies to public, not parochial schools — at a Christian academy in Jacksonville.

When he signed it into law on June 1, 2021 — notably the first day of that year’s LGBTQ Pride month — Florida became the seventh state with such a law. There are now 23 states with such laws, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an organization that tracks LGBTQ+ issues.

DeSantis has continued to use transgender issues to portray himself as in the mainstream and Democrats as out of the mainstream.

During his Thursday night debate on Fox with Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, DeSantis didn’t focus on athletics, but he sought to use the issue to portray Newsom and his state as out of touch.

DeSantis asserted that minors are able to travel to the Golden State to receive hormone therapy, puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgery without parental knowledge or consent.

The LGBTQ news site the Advocate reported DeSantis’ claim “is not true. California requires parental consent for such care, and in any case, genital surgery is not usually recommended for minors anywhere.” Newsome did sign a law, the Advocate reported, that protects young people and their families from legal action in their home states if they receive gender-affirming care in California.

This report includes information from Sun Sentinel archives.

Anthony Man can be reached at and can be found @browardpolitics on Facebook, and

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