The Dallas Morning News
Senate OKS transgender sports bill
Backers say goal is girls’ safety; foes call measure unfair, hurtful
The Texas Senate approved a controversial transgender sports bill Thursday that would force young athletes in Texas to compete in sports that align with the sex designated on their original birth certificate rather than with their gender identity.
The 18-12 vote followed a marathon March 26 hearing that featured emotional testimony on the bill, which foes decry as discriminatory and ANTI-LGBTQ. Supporters argue that allowing transgender girls to compete on a girls team puts others in physical danger, while opponents consider it a nonissue and say that legislation is unnecessary and unfairly targets transgen
The bill is one of several in the Legislature that opponents call anti-transgender. Both chambers are also considering legislation that would restrict transgender children’s access to health care.
Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry, author of Senate Bill 29, spent most of the floor debate getting pressed about equality, the effects the measure would have on transgender kids and his motive in proposing the legislation.
Houston Democratic Sen. John Whitmire urged Perry to consider the impact on transgender youth. He also noted that the vote came just days after the NCAA Board of Governors said it would hold championship events only in states where transgender student athletes can participate without discrimination.
The NCAA issued a statement to the Houston Chronicle saying it was closely monitoring state bills that affect transgender student athletes. The Lone Star State is slated to host three Final Fours, including the women’s Final Four in Dallas in 2023, as well as the College Football National Championship in Houston in 2025. Combined, the events are projected to have over $1 billion in economic impact.
“Those events would be in jeopardy if we continue to go down the path that you’re proposing,” Whitmire said.
Perry responded, “Sometimes, things are worth more than money.”
Whitmire answered: “What about equality? How do you put a value on equality? Transgender children just want to be treated equal.”
The Senate-approved bill now needs approval from a Texas House committee and the full House before it would head to Gov. Greg Abbott.
In addition to SB 29, Texas legislators have filed five other bills that would target transgender athletes’ participation in sports. Two of the measures would affect college athletes, and all would restrict competition in sports for transgender girls in K-12 schools.
For many, the issue recalls earlier divisive debates over bathroom bills.
Bathroom bill redux?
Transgender sports bills have popped up in 30 states across the country this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“A lot of the bills around the country have identical language,” said Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, an organization that makes an economic case for a more Lgbtq-inclusive Texas. “The Texas bills are very short, kind of very boiled down versions of the bills that we’ve seen in other states, but they’re using the same argument.”
LGBTQ advocates say the bills are reminiscent of the bathroom bills debated in state legislatures in recent years, which would prohibit transgender people from using bathrooms or locker rooms that aligned with their gender identity.
Whitmire and Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-austin, drew parallels between the sports and bathroom bills, but Perry disagreed.
“I love the way people monopolize a term and take over a bill and put it out there in the press,” he said. “I haven’t talked about where girls are going to go to the bathroom, or men, either one. This is about protecting female athletes and recognizing their accomplishments within their biological peer group.”
Perry’s proposal and others like it have been criticized for directing more attention and fear toward transgender women, who already suffer higher rates of fatal violence than cisgender people. At least 18 transgender or gender-nonconforming people in Texas have been killed since 2013, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In 2019, Texas had the nation’s highest five-year count of transgender killings, the group said.
What would change
Texas already has stringent guidelines for transgender athletes who wish to participate in school sports. The University Interscholastic League, which sets the rules for high school
sports in Texas, requires athletes to compete on teams based on the gender on their birth certificate. To participate in team sports that align with their gender identity, they must obtain a court order to change their birth certificate.
The Senate bill specifies that students may compete based on the “biological sex” designated on their birth certificate, entered “at or near the time” of a student’s birth or modified to “correct a clerical error.” So later changes would not be accepted.
Euless native Mack Beggs made headlines in 2017 and 2018 for winning state wrestling championships, competing in the girls events even though he was a transgender boy who wanted to wrestle other boys.
“It was hard to be the best that I could be with being told that the best that you’re doing is not enough or it doesn’t count,” Beggs said. “It was like an internal struggle within myself. … Technically you’re in this position because that’s how you were born, but there’s also these laws that tell you that you can’t be who you really are.”
Beggs later wrestled against men at Life University in Georgia, but he has since taken a break from the sport, which he now views negatively because of his high school experience. He not only had to participate on a team that invalidated his gender, but he also faced criticism from parents who didn’t want him wrestling their daughters.
Now, Beggs has shifted his focus to advocating for other transgender athletes.
When Perry was asked for evidence of transgender women injuring or negatively affecting their competitors, the senator pointed to two transgender women whom supporters of similar bills have also referenced. He didn’t call them by name, but they are Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, who collected over a dozen women’s track and field state championships in Connecticut.
Whitmire asked Perry if he knew how many instances there were of this in Texas and if it was enough to justify the legislation.
“We are the second-largest state; we probably have as many sports as anyone,” Whitmire said. “Would you not agree that as we stand here on this floor, most local jurisdictions are handling it appropriately or we’d be hearing about it?”
Perry argued that the legislation was preparation “for a trend that is being nationally recognized as a problem,” but did not specify who had identified such a trend.
It is almost guaranteed that should the bills be passed, they would be met with litigation, said Christy Mallory, legal director of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles that is devoted to research on LGBTQ issues.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects individuals from discrimination based on their “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” also protects them from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and transgender status. President Joe Biden also issued an executive order, one of his first actions as president, barring discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
Both of these factors strongly suggest that the state laws would be thrown out as discrimination against trans and LGBTQ people in court, Mallory said. “Those laws would actually trump the state-level bans.”
Actions taken by state lawmakers sometimes result in significant economic repercussions, too. Just two weeks ago, Major League Baseball removed its All-star Game from Atlanta after Georgia passed new voting laws.
North Carolina faced consequences after passing House Bill 2, its bathroom bill, in 2016. The NBA removed the All-star Game from the state, and the NCAA relocated its March Madness games to South Carolina.
Should Texas pass one of the bills restricting transgender athletes’ participation in sports, it’s possible the same thing could happen in the Lone Star State, Mallory said.
“We saw a lot of that kind of fallout around HB 2 and similar responses from the business community, other state residents around other proposed legislation that looked like HB 2,” Mallory said. “I would expect that to continue as well, not just in Texas but more broadly.”
Laws that bring negative attention to transgender girls have the potential to be quite harmful, advocates say. High school sports are an important part of community, said Stephen Russell, professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s completely different from professional sports,” Russell said. “The huge thing about sports in school is that it’s absolutely, completely, elementally, culturally normative. … To decide that there will just be a category of people that won’t be allowed is stunning.”
LGBTQ people have a higher risk of depression and substance abuse because of being marginalized in their communities, Russell said.
“I think mental health is very critical when being an athlete, especially the youth, kids and adolescents,” said Beggs, the wrestler. “They shouldn’t have to go through the things that I went through. I mean that’s detrimental to anybody’s mental health. … Something like that is very traumatizing.”
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Rbrenham, and others who support the bill echoed Perry’s sentiment in arguing that the proposal “preserves the dreams” of Texas girls pursuing state championships.
LGBTQ advocates argue that putting the spotlight on gender could also harm LGBTQ people who are not transgender, or any child who does not follow gender norms.
“So you want to protect little girls, protect little trans girls,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, “... because then we value kids, all together, we value women, all together, but that is not what they’re setting out to do.”
In a letter organized by the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality, parents of transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive youth said the bills’ impact “goes far beyond sports and medical care; they call into question whether our children have the right to exist, to be happy, to live authentically.”
The message lawmakers are sending to transgender kids, parents argued is: “You aren’t real to us. We don’t believe you when you tell us who you are. Your existence is dangerous to the other kids around you. We are okay if you feel lonely, isolated, and unwelcome. We are willing to take away even the smallest concessions that have been made for you because we have power and you don’t.”