North Dakota, Mississippi, and Utah have advanced bills aimed at preventing transgender student athletes, especially trans girls, from competing on teams comporting with their gender identity.
The North Dakota House of Representatives passed its bill Thursday, and it now goes to the state's Senate. In Mississippi, also Thursday, the Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House. The same day in Utah, the House Education Committee approved that state's legislation, which now will be considered by the full House.
Such anti-trans bills are under debate in several states, partly because of President Joe Biden's executive order committing the federal government to fight against anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. It indicates his administration is likely to intervene when schools deny trans students the right to play on sports teams designated for their gender identity.
Proponents of such legislation say they're protecting girls' sports, contending that testosterone and other factors give trans girls an inherent and unfair advantage over cisgender girls. Opponents say that's not the case -- many other factors, such as training and body size, can give any athlete advantages over his or her peers -- and that with such a small number of high-achieving trans female athletes, there's no need for bills like these.
"This is about girls competing with girls, ensuring equal opportunity, and keeping a level playing field in girls' sports," North Dakota Rep. Kathy Skroch, a Republican who is cosponsoring her state's bill, said during debate on the measure, the Grand Forks Herald reports. "It upholds 50 years of progress and protecting women against discrimination and advocates for the preservation of biological standards."
But Rep. Mary Schneider, a Democrat, called the legislation "thinly veiled prejudice under the guise of protection." She added, "This bill is fomenting fear where no problem is present. Kill this bad bill. Let's get out of the way and let our kids play."
House Minority Leader Joshua Boschee, a Democrat who is North Dakota's first out gay legislator, also condemned the bill, saying it would hurt young people who are already marginalized and at high risk for suicide, plus codify discrimination and open the state to lawsuits. "Let's move forward, let's defeat this bill and take care of the kids of our state," he said, according to the Bismarck Tribune. But the House passed the bill by a vote of 65-26.
In Mississippi, the state Senate approved its bill by 34-9 after little discussion, the Associated Press reports. "I've had numerous coaches across the state call me and believe that they feel there's a need for a policy in Mississippi because they are beginning to have some concerns of having to deal with this," said Republican Sen. Angela Hill, the legislation's sponsor.
But "no senator asked whether any transgender athletes are currently competing in Mississippi, and Hill did not volunteer such information," the AP notes. Other Mississippi officials, including Gov. Tate Reeves, had objected to Biden's executive order, saying it put girls' sports at risk.
Not so, according to LGBTQ+ and other civil rights organizations. The Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, and more have denounced legislation aimed at excluding trans athletes.
HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill released this statement on that state's bill: "By passing SB 2536, the Mississippi Senate is listening to national extremist organizations that are using fear and hate as a political wedge. All this bill does is put transgender youth at risk of bullying, exclusion, and increased danger while discrimination and violence against transgender people is at a record high in this country. If legislators would simply listen to medical experts and transgender athletes, they might know that transitioning for the sake of a competitive advantage is simply unrealistic. So is the idea that transgender athletes even gain a supposed advantage in the first place. Rather than use this all-important legislative session to bully transgender youth, the Mississippi legislature would be wise to focus their efforts on economic relief and addressing the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 6,000 Mississippians."
In Utah, Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, who is sponsoring the anti-trans bill, said it would protect female athletes. "Across America, there are stories of individuals who identified as male at birth competing against our female athletes," she said, according to the Deseret News. "These individuals who identified as male at birth are breaking records that no female will be able to reach. They're taking championships, titles, and scholarships from our female athletes." Actually, there are very few such stories.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, a Democrat, pressed Birkeland on whether she'd seen trans girls and women seeking to compete on female teams in Utah; Birkeland admitted she had not. Moss, a teacher, pointed out that many cisgender female athletes are highly skilled.
"I saw my female students going on to play soccer in college. I had a granddaughter who at age 6 could run circles around any little boy," she said. She wondered if they should be barred from competing with other girls because of their abilities. Others who testified about the bill said it would harm trans students.
Idaho last year enacted a law prohibiting trans girls and women from playing on female teams in school sports, but it has been blocked in court while a lawsuit against it is heard. In Montana, the House of Representatives has approved a similar bill and sent it to the Senate. At the federal level, Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and others are proposing a bill restricting trans participation.