Liz McCormick Published

Bill Restricting Transgender Female Athletes In W.Va. Heads To Governor

WV House of Delegates - Feb 18 2021.jpg

A bill to restrict transgender girls and women from playing female sports is on its way to Gov. Jim Justice.

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to accept the Senate’s version of HB 3293 on Friday evening.

The upper chamber’s version gives female student athletes, from middle school to college, the option to sue their county board of education, or their state higher education institution, if they feel there’s been a violation of this bill by having to play with or against a transgender girl or woman.

If the transgender student is a minor, the identity of that student would remain private and anonymous.

The Senate also amended the bill to clarify that the legislation will no longer “restrict the eligibility of any student to participate” in male athletic teams, or those that are co-ed, as long as they “try out and possess the requisite skill to make the team.”

More than two dozen state legislatures including West Virginia have introduced similar legislation this year. West Virginia House Democrats on Friday spoke against the effort.

It attempts to harm children,” said Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion. “It ostracizes some of our most vulnerable children in the state of West Virginia.”

Garcia also questioned if this could hamper the state’s tourism efforts, referring to an incident in 2016 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association pulled its planned championship events from North Carolina venues, after the state imposed bathroom restrictions on its transgender residents and visitors. The NCAA returned to North Carolina after the state partially repealed the ban in 2017.

“They had to go back and fix it,” Garcia said. “They had to go back and fix it because they actually cared about tourism.”

Others who have opposed the bill, including Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, have said provisions for college athletes in the Senate’s version of HB 3293 conflict with the NCAA’s policy enacted in 2011, which allows transgender women to play in their sports.

“I don’t think that people who have a distinct physical, physiological advantage over members of an opposite sex should be allowed to play a sport with them. It’s unfair,” Weld said Thursday on the Senate floor. “But by including higher education, we’ve added another layer of complexity to an issue that is already extremely complex, extremely difficult.”

Meanwhile, Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said Thursday that she believes the bill would bring the state into further compliance with Title IX, a law preventing sex-based discrimination, including discrimination against women, in schools and related programs.

“[This] is for the policy of helping our girls, helping our women, have the opportunity. That is what Title IX was about.” Rucker said. “This bill does nothing more than codify what is already well established under federal and state common law: that biological females, and biological males are not similarly situated in certain circumstances, and one of those circumstances is in sports.”

Supporters of the legislation in the House on Friday agreed with Rucker. “This conversation has to do with one thing and one thing only — girls in sports,” said Del. Roger Conley, R-Wood. “Why is it fair that my granddaughter would be on a basketball team with someone that was born a biological male, gets plowed over because they’re much faster, much stronger, [and] gets her leg broken?”

Before the bill reached either floor, however — in both its current version and earlier as it passed the House in March — lawmakers heard testimony from advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, that say transgender women are just as diverse as other women when it comes to body type and skill.

“They have a variety of different talents. They have a variety of different interests,” said Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director Cathryn Oakley during a meeting with the House Judiciary Committee in February. “Some of them will be tall, some of them are short, some of them are fast, some of them are slow, some of them will have excellent hand eye coordination, others of them will not.”

While lawmakers who support the bill haven’t publicly identified any situations where schools have had problems with transgender athletes in West Virginia, the bill’s opponents have referred to sources highlighting bullying against transgender youth.

That includes a report by the Trevor Project mentioned last year in Forbes magazine, which said nearly half of the country’s transgender youth have considered suicide in the last year.

“This legislation, it’s just one more nail in the coffin for those students,” said Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, who is gay. “I don’t think anyone in here has ever contemplated suicide for being straight. Definitely crossed my mind. But this bill, it’s unfortunate that this is where we’re at right now, and that we’re going to put into law something that’s going to just tell these young people that you don’t matter. We don’t care.”

Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, agreed and said she was “sorry” on behalf of the legislature.

“Trans youth are still youth. Children are still children,” said Walker. “Today, I feel like a bully on children … I apologize to my constituents … I stand with you today in front of my colleagues.”

The House voted 80-20 on the measure, and the bill now heads to the governor for consideration. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reached out to the bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, for comment, but he did not respond before this story was published.

Hanna has not spoken publicly on the floor or in committee on the issue.

House Communications Director Ann Ali told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that because the bill originated in the House Education Committee, Hanna was listed as its lead sponsor due to him serving as committee vice chair that day.