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Texas Lawmakers Advance Restrictions on Transgender Athletes

Texas Republicans are seeking to join nine other states that restrict transgender athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identities.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Texas Senate Health and Human Services committee on Monday advanced two bills that would require transgender athletes to compete on the teams that relate to their gender assigned at birth.

Senate Bill 2 would restrict transgender athletes in the Texas public schools system, which follows rules provided by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), from participating on sports teams that reflect their gender identities.

The UIL is a century-old Texas organization that regulates and administers athletic, musical and academic competitions for Texas students from grades two to 12. The bill would also extend to institutions of higher education and students who participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 

Nearly identical to SB 2, Senate Bill 32 restricts transgender athletes in middle and high school from participating on the team that aligns with their identities. The bill does not address athletes in higher education. 

The bills do, however, provide an exception permitting girls to participate in sports designated for male students if the school does not offer the same sport for girls.

Texas public schools already adhere to UIL guidances prohibiting boys from participate in girls’ sports and vice versa. The rule refers to a student’s birth certificate when considering if they are eligible or not to play on the team. However, in the instance that a student has changed their birth certificate to reflect their identity, that student would then be eligible to play on the team that reflects the gender as listed on their birth certificate and therefore the team that reflects their identity. 

Both bills seek to change that workaround for those who have had their birth certificate changed. Instead of just considering the document, school officials would have to look at the original birth certificate and the gender assigned “at or near the time of the student’s birth.” If adopted, the bills would require the UIL to obtain the student’s original birth certificate, not the current certificate. 

The author of both bills, Republican State Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock, put this in the bill to specifically prevent students who have had the gender on their birth certificate changed to play on a team that aligns with their identity.    

Perry, laying out the bills Monday before the committee, said the bills are “protection for women and girls in UIL and NCAA sports, it provides equality and reaffirms those rights granted through Title IX…”

Title IX refers to the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education and paved the way for the creation of girl’s sports for school-aged children. During the public hearing, members of the Senate committee and citizens in support of both bills said that they are essential to pass to protect Title IX and fairness in women’s sports. 

Speaking on behalf of UIL, Deputy Director of Policy and Administration Jamey Harrison told lawmakers that he has noticed an increase in schools across the state inquiring about rules regarding transgender athletes.

This increase in transgender visibility among student athletes has sparked a debate over whether it is fair to allow transgender girls in particular to play on girls’ teams.

The group Save Women’s Sports was largely present during the hearing and voiced strong support for both bills. Their chief complaint is that if allowed to compete, transgender females would dominate their cisgender counterparts, leading to a reality where “biological” females cannot compete in their own sport.

Those against the bills say that they are attempting to fix a problem that does not exist in Texas. Democratic Senator John Whitmire of Houston, in his questioning of Harrison, alluded to the small population of transgender athletes in Texas and attempted to understand the prevalence of transgender athletes in Texas. Harrison explained that as an organization that was something they do not track and therefore there is no clear number as to the number of transgender Texans.

“I really think the facts are that this is a very small community. Then if you look at the number of school-aged children it would even be much smaller, and largely they are minding their own business … and just want to be left alone,” said Whitmire in response.

Eight-year-old Sunny Bryant, beside her mother Rebekah, testified against SB 2 and SB 32 before the Senate committee. A transgender child, Bryant told lawmakers of her experience playing on girls’ sports teams without any issue. Bryant said that kids her age do not care about what gender she was assigned at birth.

“Kids care about what is in your heart, only old people can’t see that. So please let me play, let me run, get dirty and most importantly, have fun,” said Bryant.

During the regular session in the spring, Republicans introduced and supported Senate Bill 29 which would have restricted transgender athletes the way SB 2 and SB 32 will. Another bill proposed would have restricted access for transgender youth to receive gender-affirming healthcare such as hormone therapies or puberty blockers. Both of these bills failed to pass in the regular session after they missed key legislative deadlines.

“Protecting women’s sports” was a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during the regular session. After the previous bill failed during the regular session, Patrick called on the Governor to put the issue on a summer special session agenda.

Patrick got his wish on July 7 when the Governor laid out 11 items for a special session, one of them being for the legislature to disallow transgender athletes from playing on the team that aligns with their identity.

The current debate over transgender rights in Texas is not new to the legislature. In 2017, the governor recalled the legislature for a special session to pass what came to be known as “the bathroom bill.” The bill would have barred transgender persons from using public restrooms that reflect their gender identity. Just as now, the bathroom bill was a legislative priority for the lieutenant governor, but after a controversial session the bill failed to pass.

With both bills’ passage from the Senate committee, the bill is now headed for a full vote in the Senate. Republicans do hold a majority in the chamber and the legislation is likely to pass. Complicating legislative efforts, Texas House Democrats have left the state to block voting legislation. This prevents the bills from advancing in the House in the near future.

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