Texas Governor Greg Abbott on October 25 signed legislation banning transgender student-athletes from participating in sports in accordance with their gender identity, making his state the eighth this year to approve such harmful legislation.
The law, which goes into effect in January, stipulates that student-athletes can only participate in school sports that match the gender on their birth certificate at the time they were born. The measure bans the University Interscholastic League — the state’s governing body for school sports — from allowing athletes to use amended birth certificates. The only exception to the rule is when a sport is not offered for more than one gender.
Lawmakers initially struggled to gain sufficient support for a similar legislative effort earlier this year, but they used a special session to advance the legislation through both houses of the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature.
“We are devastated at the passage of this bill,” Richard Martinez, the CEO of the statewide organization Equality Texas, said in a written statement. “Despite the powerful advocacy and testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation, it is now law. Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions.”
The legislation was approved in the face of fierce resistance from hundreds of business groups, several high-profile current and former professional athletes, and others who warned of the perils of sidelining youth from sports participation for discriminatory purposes. Adding their voices to the cause were 12-year-old Adelyn and 11-year-old Libby Gonzales, two Texas-based youth who produced videos with the Human Rights Campaign to explain how the legislation would harm them.
Despite the legislative attack on trans athletes, ESPN reported that the NCAA is not planning to move upcoming championship games slated to be played in Texas — though those opposed to inclusion in sports are being put on notice.
“Given the Association’s foundational values of inclusion and fair competition, the NCAA intends to conduct its championships as they were awarded but will require all hosts to reaffirm their commitment to ensure a nondiscriminatory and safe environment for all college athletes per their host agreement,” the NCAA said in August, according to ESPN. “Any host who cannot commit to the nondiscrimination policy should contact the NCAA immediately.”
The campaign to sideline trans athletes has ballooned into a nationwide fixation by Republicans — and some conservative Democrats — who are searching for what they hope are winning issues in their respective states, even when their arguments are rooted in discrimination. Lawmakers pushing the bills have failed to provide adequate justification or show cases of trans student-athletes disrupting sports environments in the country. Nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed this year across more than half of US states — and only a tiny fraction of those end up advancing.
“Opponents of LGBTQ equality are using our transgender youth as part of their politically-motivated assault on the equal rights of transgender people,” GLSEN interim executive director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a written statement. “GLSEN strongly condemns Governor Abbott for signing HB 25 into law and we will continue to devote our support and resources to the transgender young people in Texas and across the country who are leading the fight against these kinds of cruel political attacks.”
A PBS/NPR/Marist poll recently showed that an outright majority — 60 percent — of Republicans in 10 swing states oppose anti-trans policies and 87 percent support the right to medical care for trans individuals. However, more than 80 percent of Republican respondents are against allowing transgender inclusion in sports, while 75 percent of Democrats support trans high school athletes.
Legal challenges have already stifled some anti-trans sports legislation, such as in Idaho, where a district court found that state’s ban on trans girls from playing in sports violated the constitutional rights of transgender girls. The State of Idaho subsequently turned to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to appeal that ruling and the policy remains on hold, at least for now.
The Biden administration’s Department of Education, meanwhile, published a Notice of Interpretation in the Federal Register earlier this year maintaining that Title IX — which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in education — also applies to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The Biden administration’s notice cited the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which banned discrimination in employment. It is widely expected that federal courts will interpret that ruling to encompass discrimination in areas beyond employment.