Under a bill that advanced in the Republican-controlled Mississippi Senate late Thursday night, transgender athletes would be banned from competing in girls’ or women’s sports in the state’s schools and universities.
Many critics have objected to transgender women competing in female sports, arguing that they have an unfair advantage because they typically have greater strength, bone mass, and muscle volume.
Studies have shown that the women often retain their physical advantages inherited from birth, even if they tak testosterone-lowering medication.
Speaking last week during a Senate committee hearing, Utah Senator Mitt Romney said he felt transgender girls should not participate in girl’s sport.
‘I’ve got pictures of my eight granddaughters amongst grandsons behind me,’ Romney said. ‘They shouldn’t be competing with people who are physiologically in an entirely different category.
‘I think boys should be competing with boys and girls should be competing with (girls) on the athletic field.’
However there is often fierce debate over the subject, and President Joe Biden signed an executive order on January 20 – the day he took office – that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.
And LGBTQ rights organisations have accused the proposed bans of being attempts to ‘sow hate’ and say they are driven by the ‘far right’.
Sports scholarships gained from high school sports often give students free tuition to university, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Mississippi, Tennessee and Utah are considering laws that would ban transgender girls from competing in women’s sport because they have an ‘unfair advantage’. Pictured: Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash on February 7, 2019 (file photo)
In Mississippi, Republican Sen. Angela Hill of Picayune said: ‘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 the bill’s sponsor.’
No senator asked whether any transgender athletes are currently competing in Mississippi, and Hill did not volunteer such information. The bill will go to the Republican-controlled House for more work in coming weeks.
Mississippi is one of a dozen states with lawmakers proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender minors this year.
Mississippi Republican governor Tate Reeves, the father of three daughters, tweeted on February 4: ‘I am so disappointed over President Biden’s actions to force young girls like them to compete with biological males for access to athletics.’
Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, condemned anti-transgender bills in Mississippi and other states.
‘These bills are not addressing any real problem, and they´re not being requested by constituents,’ Human Rights Campaign said in a statement Wednesday.
‘Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organisations attempting to sow fear and hate.’
In Utah, Senator Mike Lee introduced a bill with 13 other Republican colleagues that would also ban transgender girls from playing women’s sport at schools.
Mississippi Republican governor Tate Reeves (pictured), the father of three daughters, tweeted on February 4: ‘I am so disappointed over President Biden’s actions to force young girls like them to compete with biological males for access to athletics’
In Utah, Senator Mike Lee (pictured) introduced a bill with 13 other Republican colleagues that would also ban transgender girls from playing women’s sport at schools
Less said the bill would protect ‘opportunities of girls throughout America to athletically compete against other girls.’
Supporters of bills such as the one in Mississippi argue that transgender girls, because they were born male, are naturally stronger, faster and bigger than those born female.
Opponents say such proposals violate not only Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, but also rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Tennessee, a day after the governor said transgender athletes would ‘destroy women’s sports,’ Senate GOP leaders on Thursday offered tepid support for legislation that would ban them from participating in girls’ sports.
‘I think we need to adequately review the issue in committee and if it’s not occurring in Tennessee (we should) probably not address it,’ Senate Speaker Randy McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge, told reporters.
The comments add some uncertainty to the bill’s prospects one day after Republican Governor Bill Lee entered the debate.
He said transgender athletes would ‘destroy women’s sports’ and stressed that transgender athletes would put ‘a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time.’
However, as the legislation is debated inside the GOP-dominant General Assembly, neither Lee nor legislative leaders have revealed how many transgender students are participating in public school sports in Tennessee – sparking criticism from opponents that prioritising the proposal is offensive when the state continues to be wracked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic President Joe Biden signed an executive order on January 20 – the day he took office – that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere
According to the bill, student athletes would be required to prove that the student’s sex matches the student’s ‘original’ birth certificate in order to participate in public school sports.
If a birth certificate is unavailable, then the parents must provide another form of evidence ‘indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.’
The proposal has already made some early traction in the House but it remains unknown how far it will advance in the Senate after McNally’s remarks.
Like Lee, McNally also said he opposed transgender girls participating in girls sports but said he’s unsure it’s an issue that should be a top concern for the state.
‘We need to move very carefully. I think probably that issue is best addressed on the local level and allow the locals to address that issue,’ he said.
Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Yager added that he expects questions on how widespread transgender athletes are currently participating in Tennessee’s middle and high schools when the bill is debated in a committee hearing.
In contrast, Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton told reporters Thursday that the state should take a ‘proactive approach’ regardless of whether transgender athletes were actually participating in middle and high school sports in Tennessee.
Pictured: Troy Williams, Equality Utah executive director, speaks in opposition of HB302 during a committee meeting at the State Office Building in Salt Lake City on February 11. The bill would bar transgender athletes at public schools to participate in girls sports
Pictured: U.S Representative Mary Gay Scanion (D-PA) speaks on introduction of the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination bill at the US Capitol on April 01, 2019
‘Whether it is now or not, it could very well be in the future. You’ve seen national things happening,’ Sexton said. ‘I think we’re being more proactive knowing that it could be a problem today or in the future.’
Sexton added that he believed the legislation is supported by his Republican caucus and that it will likely pass the House.
Currently, a similar 2020 Idaho law has been blocked by a federal judge as a lawsuit makes it way in court.
In 2019, 18-time Tennis grand slam singles champion Martina Navratilova was heavily criticised for her comments on transgender inclusion in sport.
She wrote in a newspaper column, she referred to trans woman as men who ‘decide to be female,’ adding that it is ‘cheating and unfair’ to allow them to compete with women who were assigned female at birth.
‘To put the argument at its most basic: a man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires,’ she wrote.
In 2019, 18-time Tennis grand slam singles champion Martina Navratilova (pictured) was heavily criticised for her comments on transgender inclusion in sport
‘It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.’
Her comments were slammed for being ‘disturbing, upsetting, and deeply transphobic’, with rights group Trans Actual tweeting: ‘We’re pretty devastated to discover that Martina Navratilova is transphobic.
‘If trans women had an advantage in sport, why aren’t trans women winning gold medals left, right and centre?’
In the case of the Olympics, under guidelines introduced by the International Olympic Committee in 2016, trans men are allowed to compete without restriction.
However, trans women must demonstrate that they testosterone level has been below a certain cutoff point for at least one year before their first competition.