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Texas lawmakers send bill restricting transgender youth in sports to the governor

On their fourth attempt, Texas lawmakers have passed a bill to ban transgender youth from participating in public school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas House Republicans on Sunday delivered on Governor Abbott’s third special session call to restrict transgender kids from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity. Over the span of four days, the bill has moved quickly to ensure its passage by the end of the special session on Oct. 19.

House Bill 25 is the latest version of a bill that has been a priority for social conservatives such as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. The bill seeks to bar school districts and open-enrollment charter schools from allowing transgender children from participating in sports teams that align with the student’s gender identity. 

In Texas, public school sports are governed by the University Interscholastic League and despite the groups already having a policy against transgender children playing on teams of opposite biological sex, the bill would codify into law such a restriction. UIL’s current policy requires students to participate on the team that matches the gender on their birth certificate. However, the organization will recognize students' birth certificates who have gone through the process of having their birth certificates changed to match their gender identity. 

House Bill 25 will close off that workaround by requiring school districts and the UIL to only recognize the birth certificate that was issued “at or near the time of birth.” Enforcement of this law would be in the hands of Texas school districts that have access to students' records. While the bill strictly bans all transgender kids from playing on the team they identify with, many supporters of the bill speak more directly of transgender females participating on female teams. Their perspective is that someone who is born male and transitions to female still holds an unfair physician advantage over their cisgender counterparts.

For these reasons, proponents of the bill argue this is an effort to “protect women’s sports.” State Representative Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, authored HB 25 and said that if lawmakers do not act, girls participating in athletic competitions would be overpowered by transgender females who could diminish biological females’ ability to achieve scholarships and careers in sports. 

“Girls should not be spectators in their own sports...we all know biological males have an unfair advantage over girls in sports,” said Swanson on the House floor Thursday night.

In response to the news of the bill's passage, Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement, “This law will deprive transgender and intersex kids of their basic rights and opportunities to play with their friends, get exercise and learn life lessons through sports.”

Proponents of HB 25 such as the cultural conservative group Texas Values have expressed their support for the legislature's action.

In a press release earlier this week, the group's president Jonathan Saenz said, “We are happy to finally see this day come after all of our hard work and continued efforts to protect girls. We care about Texas girls and we are ready to watch this bill cross the finish line in the Senate.”  

On Thursday, the bill was passed out of the House along party lines. During the debate, House Democrats fought the bill, calling it a cruel piece of legislation that rules over a small minority of Texas youth. Additionally, they asserted that the bill could very well lead to children being asked to provide proof of their gender in athletic competitions.

 State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, D-Dallas, said that lawmakers were debating the lives of transgender children. 

“Here we are again, debating their lives, debating their dignity, letting them know that they are second class,” said Gonzalez. “We have been given zero examples to justify this piece of legislation.” 

Comments such as Gonzalez’s were echoes of the hundreds who have testified and protested at the Texas Capitol since this piece of legislation was first introduced during the spring regular session. LGBTQ rights organizations have argued the bill and previous attempts to pass legislation restricting transgender youth has led to devastating effects on kids’ and teens’ self-image and caused a rise of suicidal ideation. 

With no floor debate, House Bill 25 sailed through the Texas Senate Friday evening. Senators received the bill from the House and referred it to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, where after a couple of hours it passed and taken up for a full vote. Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, carried the bill to final passage with little resistance from Senate Democrats.  

Perry sponsored HB 25 and was instrumental in introducing the previous versions of the bill. Not many changes were made to the bill while in the Senate, but Perry did amend the bill to remove an amendment made in the House that specified biological sex as related to a person's genitalia. Perry, much like his Republican counterparts in the House, believes that transgender females would pose a threat to the safety and fairness of girls’ sports.

The fight over transgender students’ rights to play in school sports has been waging since the regular legislative session this past spring. Early on, the Texas Senate moved to craft similar legislation and pass it in the chamber. A difference from HB 25 and the Senate versions was that the restrictions would have extended to students and teams that participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Those Senate Bills failed to pass due to inaction in the House during the regular session, a House Democratic quorum break over voting rights in the first special session and running out of time in the second special session. 

This issue has been a priority of conservative Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature. Since the regular session, Republicans in the Texas Senate have introduced and passed a similar bill multiple times before successfully passing this legislation on the fourth try. Senator Perry passed similar legislation in the previous special sessions called by the governor.   

House Bill 25 now heads to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law.

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