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Texas House passes bill targeting transgender student-athletes

After a series of recent failures to pass restrictions on transgender youth sports participation, Republican state lawmakers got one step closer on their fourth try.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Texas House of Representatives passed legislation late Thursday that says public school students can only play on sports teams that match the gender on their birth certificate.

House Bill 25 now heads to the Texas Senate, where it is expected to pass and fulfill Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s request to see a transgender sports ban become law.

The controversial legislation that has been circulating the halls of the Texas Capitol since the regular legislative session this past spring is now one step closer to becoming law. It was a priority of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is president of the Texas Senate, to pass a bill banning children in Texas public schools from participating in sports teams that align with their gender identity.

The Senate passed such legislation three times – once during the regular session, once during the first special session of the year and again in the second special session. Reasons for not reaching the governor's desk include running out of time in the session and a lack of quorum in the lower chamber for House lawmakers to take up the legislation. Abbott placed the issue on the agenda for the third special session after Patrick asked the governor to do so.

The latest incarnation of the bill, HB 25, requires that all school districts or open-enrollment charter schools in the state restrict K-12 students from participating on a team that is opposite their biological sex, meaning a student who was born a boy cannot play on a girls' team. The bill does make an exception for cases when a girl would like to play on a boys' sports team and there is no girls' team for that sport at their school.

In Texas, the University Interscholastic League is the governing body that regulates school sports. UIL already has a provision that requires students to participate on the team that matches the gender on their birth certificate. However, some students may go through the process of having their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which UIL would recognize. HB 25 closes this option, only allowing UIL to accept the birth certificate “at or near the time of birth” or if it was modified to correct a clerical error.

State Representative Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, authored HB 25 and said her legislation would protect girls’ safety and access to school sports.

“I am excited that we have the opportunity to stand up for our daughters, granddaughters, and all our Texas girls,” Swanson said during debate on the bill Thursday.

Swanson, like many Senate Republicans who introduced similar legislation, said the bill is essential for protecting Title IX, a provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barring sex discrimination and leading to greater opportunities for women and girls in athletics.

“We fought for this right and now we must defend it,” Swanson said.

Transgender rights activists rally at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Oct. 6, 2021. (Kirk McDaniel/Courthouse News)

Speaking in opposition to the bill, many House Democrats argued this type of legislation leads to real harm for transgender youth, including bullying and suicidal ideation.

Critics of HB 25 also argue that transgender youth participation in sports is not an issue in Texas. Democrats say that while UIL has received numerous inquiries about their policy from school districts, no complaints have been filed. 

The legislation has spawned many protests at the Texas Capitol. Last week, LGBTQ rights activists, parents and children gathered to voice their opposition and called on legislators to cease further consideration of the bill.

Mandy Giles, a Houston mother of two children who identify as nonbinary, said in an interview that it has been exhausting to continue speaking out against these bills.

“It is disheartening to hear a lot of the rhetoric on the other side and to hear people refer to me as a child abuser and to my children as abominations,” Giles said. “I am a Christian and the God that I believe in welcomes all and I’d rather go to hell for including people rather than excluding people.” 

Ricardo Martinez is the CEO of Equality Texas, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. He called HB 25 a hateful attack on transgender Texans and vowed to keep fighting the bill.

“We’ll continue to educate lawmakers, replacing misinformation with real stories and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms,” he said.

Restricting transgender youth from participating in school sports is just one of many priorities Republican lawmakers have worked to enact into law, and is part of a larger shift to the right on social issues such as LGBTQ rights, abortion and guns. Abbott, who is facing three GOP primary challengers in 2022, has moved further to the right and has taken aim at several culture war issues that are important to a narrow base of Republican voters.

HB 25 passed the Texas House largely on party lines Thursday night. The Senate has until Tuesday pass it and other bills during the third special session. If senators don't, the governor may call lawmakers back for a fourth special legislative session.

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