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Transgender athlete controversy continues in Florida

FILE - Protester hold signs as University of Pennsylvania transgender athlete Lia Thomas competes in the 200 freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships Friday, March 18, 2022, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Thomas finished tied for fifth place. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
John Bazemore/AP
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AP
FILE - Protester hold signs as University of Pennsylvania transgender athlete Lia Thomas competes in the 200 freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships Friday, March 18, 2022, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Thomas finished tied for fifth place. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Sparks outrage throughout Florida over who can and cannot play in school athletics.

Students protest in South Florida

On Wednesday, Fort Lauderdale's Monarch High School students walked out of class in protest over a decision made by the Broward County School District.

The county removed several staff members, including the principal, pending an investigation that started after they say a young teenaged girl, who was originally born a male, competed on the school’s girls’ volleyball team.

WLRN reporter Kate Payne lives in Miami-Dade, which is about an hour away from Coconut Creek in Broward County where the events took place. She says in her coverage of the protest she witnessed students holding posters and chanting.

“These were peaceful protests," said Payne. Maybe 30 minutes or so, not terribly long. They [the students] are really sending a message that they're in support of their classmate and they think she should be able to play.”

Republican gubernatorial incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, waves to supporters Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla. DeSantis will face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November.
Gaston De Cardenas
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AP
Republican gubernatorial incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, waves to supporters Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla. DeSantis will face U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in November.

In 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis joined more than 20 other states in signing a wave of laws prohibiting transgender female athletesfrom participating on teams designated for women. He named the law the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.

“We believe it is very important the integrity in those competitions is preserved, that these opportunities are protected," DeSantis said during the bill’s signing ceremony. "I can tell you this, in Florida, girls are going to play girl sports and boys are going to play boy sports.”

The Florida Department of Education backed the Governor last month. DOE says they will not allow Monarch High School or any school in Florida to break the law and that those responsible for the alleged incident in South Florida, will face “serious consequences.”

Jose Rodriguez, of Orlando, Fla., center, walks with the Equality Florida group at the Stonewall Pride Parade, Saturday, June 18, 2022, during Pride Month in Wilton Manors, Fla. The annual parade celebrates the historic Stonewall riots and the start of the LGBTQ human rights movement. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/AP
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AP
Jose Rodriguez, of Orlando, Fla., center, walks with the Equality Florida group at the Stonewall Pride Parade, Saturday, June 18, 2022, during Pride Month in Wilton Manors, Fla. The annual parade celebrates the historic Stonewall riots and the start of the LGBTQ human rights movement. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

'All children deserve the same learning environment'

However, Equality Florida, one of the state’s largest LGBTQ+ human rights organizations, is supporting the student. Jennifer Soloman works with Equality Florida's Parenting with Pride program. She says no child in Florida should be bullied out of what they love.

“We are supporting this family, we are supporting this student, and we're supporting all trans kids across the state," said Soloman. “There are laws that have been passed by a governor that has really hurt our kids and this is a perfect incident of where a child has been publicly outed.”

This isn’t the first time a transgender athlete has faced public backlash in Florida

DeSantis lashed out at Lia Thomas, a collegiate trans swimmer, for winning the Division-I Women's Swimming and Diving Championship in 2022. Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a national championship. The Governor called out the NCAA for allowing the transgender woman to compete.

During a press conference, he issued a proclamationdemanding the NCAA strip the title from Thomas and declare a Florida resident who was born a female the winner of the match.

“We need to stop allowing organizations like the NCAA to perpetrate frauds on the public and that’s exactly what they’re doing," said DeSantis. "They are putting ideology ahead of opportunity for women athletes.”

The governor continues to be one of the biggest critics of gay and transgender rights as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination for 2024.

LGBTQ+ advocates say they felt targeted by DeSantis and the Republican controlled Florida legislature during the last legislative session, and they’re concerned about what the session beginning in January could hold.

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Adrian Andrews