Texas bill limiting transgender student athletes’ sports participation clears key hurdle on way to becoming law
A Texas bill prohibiting transgender student athletes from joining school sports teams aligned with their gender identity is heading to the full Texas House, where it is likely to pass, following a House committee’s approval Wednesday.
After more than eight hours of emotional testimony, the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies voted 8-4 along party lines to advance House Bill 25. The legislation, authored by state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, would restrict student athletes at public schools to playing on sports teams that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate at or near their time of birth.
Lawmakers’ attempts to enshrine such restrictions into law have failed three previous times this year. But Wednesday’s committee vote helped the legislation clear a key hurdle that increases its likelihood of becoming law this time.
Republican lawmakers have portrayed the legislation as a way to protect cisgender women’s rights under Title IX, a federal law that restricts discrimination on the basis of sex in educational settings. Proponents of HB 25 have claimed that transgender girls’ participation on teams made up of mostly cisgender girls would present safety hazards for cisgender girls and prevent them from obtaining athletic scholarships. Medical professionals have largely debunked arguments that transgender athletes who are taking hormones have an advantage, with one study showing people taking hormones did not have a significant performance edge in distance running.
“Our constituents expect us to see problems that are coming, and not wait till there’s a disaster till everything falls apart and try to fix it,” Swanson said. “We don’t have to wait till it’s a big problem in Texas.”
Democrats and other opponents of the legislation questioned what problem lawmakers are trying to solve and pointed out how bills targeting transgender children hurt the mental health of already vulnerable kids. Numerous parents of transgender youth testified before the House committee Wednesday, including Amber Briggle, the mother of a 13-year-old transgender boy. Briggle said she was “mad as hell” for having to show up to the legislature again to combat a bill that targets her child.
“He’s 13, he shouldn’t have to deal with that,” Briggle said. “I want him to go to gymnastics. I want to go to taekwondo. I want him to do well in school, and I don’t want to have him worry about this because I saw how much it harmed him in April and May.”
Aaron Richie, father of two transgender teenagers, said his kids have dreaded the start of legislative sessions “in anticipation of the bills that are going to debate what rights and opportunities they should have.”
The University Interscholastic League, which governs public school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by their birth certificate. (Two private schools are also part of UIL, according to UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison.) However, UIL also accepts legally modified birth certificates, on which students may have had their gender officially changed to align with their gender identity.
“We’re just strictly codifying UIL rules,” Swanson said while presenting HB 25 to House committee members.
Leal Anderson, the athletic director for the Austin Independent School District, said in an interview he doesn’t have any information on instances in his district of a transgender student playing on a team corresponding with their gender identity.
“I would say that normally [birth certificates are] checked but then it’d be double checked if there’s a question, but in most cases there’s not a question of the identity of the gender of the person,” Anderson said.
Opponents of the bill have said it addresses a problem that does not currently exist.
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