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Mom of trans athlete at center of Florida sports controversy speaks out

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(NEW YORK) — A transgender athlete’s spot on a girls’ high school volleyball team that resulted in Florida school employees being reassigned and led to student walkouts is now at the center of an investigation to determine whether the school violated a 2021 state law that governs sports and gender.


Jessica Norton, the mom of the transgender athlete and one of the employees at Monarch High School under investigation, is speaking out.

Norton and several other school employees, including the principal and assistant principal, have been reassigned to non-school sites pending the outcome of a district investigation into allegations of improper student participation in sports, Broward County officials told ABC News.

“We will continue to follow state law and will take appropriate action based on the outcome of the investigation,” the district said in a statement. “We are committed to providing all our students with a safe and inclusive learning environment.”

A 2021 law, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, prohibits transgender girls from playing on girl’s sports teams.

Norton said she and her family have received an “outpouring of love and support” from the community following her reassignment.

“Watching our community’s resistance and display of love has been so joyous for our family — the light leading us through this darkness. I want everyone to know that we see you, and we are so grateful for you,” Norton said in a statement via her legal representatives at the Human Rights Campaign.

However, Norton said the controversy about her daughter’s participation has ripped away her family’s “privacy, sense of our privacy, sense of safety, and right to self-determination.”

“There is a long history in this country of outing people against their will — forced outing, particularly of a child, is a direct attempt to endanger the person being outed,” Norton said.

Norton and her family are behind a lawsuit filed against the 2021 transgender sports law. Norton and her husband only use their first names in the lawsuit, and their daughter was identified by her initials.

The law states that an athletic team or sport for women and girls at a public school or college may not be open to students who were assigned male as stated on their birth certificate.

Supporters of such restrictions on trans sports participation argue that biological differences between the sexes is necessary to maintain “fairness” in women’s athletic activities. At least 23 states have implemented restrictions on trans participation in sports, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

“As a father of two daughters, I want my girls, and every girl in Florida, to compete on an even playing field for the opportunities available to young women in sports,” said DeSantis at the signing of the bills.

Critics of trans sports restrictions say that these laws ostracize and discriminate against transgender people and that the biology of sports performance is complicated and not easily flattened by sex.

The governing bodies of several national and international sports leagues, including the International Olympic Committee, require transgender women meet certain hormone levels to play on sports teams with cisgender women.

Norton’s daughter was playing on the girl’s soccer team in middle school at the time of the lawsuit, according to the complaint, and playing in girl’s volleyball leagues as well.

“It is a source of pride for her, and is also the major source of her social and friendship network,” the complaint read, highlighting the positive impacts that sports can have on students’ lives.

At age 11, at the recommendation of her endocrinologist, the athlete began hormone blockers that would pause the developmental impacts of testosterone and prevent her from going through male puberty.

The student later began taking estrogen for feminizing hormone therapy “and will continue to do so for the rest of her life. This will allow her to live as the girl/woman that she is,” the complaint read.

There is no clear data on whether transgender women have an advantage physiologically.

One study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that trans women had a 9% faster mean run speed after a one-year period of testosterone suppression.

A different study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender women have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition.

Experts wrote in a recent JAMA Pediatrics editorial that preventing trans youth from participating in school sports could be bad for the mental and physical health of an already at-risk population because they lose out on the developmental benefits of sports participation.

U.S. District Judge Roy Altman rejected the legal challenge from the Nortons, citing physiological differences between sexes, but the plaintiffs have the ability to file an amended complaint by mid-January.

Students walked out of their classes on Nov. 28 in support of the athlete and school employees being investigated.

A student at Monarch, who is trans and asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, told ABC News that the laws restricting transgender students are “scary.”

She said it is “affecting how other people perceive us on a day-to-day basis.”

Another student at Monarch High, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, told ABC News that the situation is “heartbreaking.”

“It’s been something that has just been progressively getting more intense in the last few years,” the student said, referencing legislation that impacts the LGBTQ community in the state.

She continued, “The queer and trans community here, and our city, and our county is so, like, beautiful, and so large … This situation has rocked many students here, a lot harder than it might seem on the surface.”

District officials declined to comment further.

ABC News has reached out to the other school employees who have been reassigned.

 

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