Updated on April 9, 2021 at 10:45 a.m.
A bill to restrict transgender students’ access to women’s sports in middle, high school and college has passed out of the West Virginia Senate.
Senators who voted in favor of the bill said Thursday they believe the legislation will protect women’s sports. Those who opposed the bill said it would contradict the NCAA’s policy for transgender athletes and that it would lead to more bullying and alienation against transgender youth.
HB 3293 has changed drastically since it came to the Senate from the House of Delegates. Originally, the bill would have required middle and high school athletes to provide a birth certificate or receive a physical exam from a physician prior to playing single-sex sports. The intent was to keep athletes separated based on biological sex.
Senators changed that bill entirely, however, to focus on female sports for middle, high school and college.
Under the bill, student athletes who are cisgender, meaning someone whose gender is exclusively the one they were assigned at birth, can go to their county boards of education, or their state higher education institution, and file a lawsuit against transgender competitors if they feel “aggrieved” or “harmed” by a violation of this bill, according to Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.
Rucker was the lead sponsor to the latest amendment to the bill.
“To me, if you say that you do support women, that you do support our girls, if you say that you want to give them an opportunity,” Rucker said on the Senate floor. “Well, this is one of these bills you can support, because you want to ensure continued opportunities.”
If the transgender student is a minor, the identity of that student would remain private and anonymous.
Democrats said the measure will have negative psychological impacts on girls who may be wrongly accused of being boys. They also argued it further alienates transgender students and allow for more bullying.
“Sixty percent of trans kids physically harm their own bodies. Half strongly consider suicide. Why?” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, citing a 2020 study by the Trevor Project in Forbes. “This is not something I have lived through, but what I understand from talking to folks who have lived through it, it’s because they don’t feel like they fit in. They’re bullied relentlessly … because they’re so obviously different.”
The bill passed 18-15 and now heads back to the House for consideration. Five Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the bill, including Sens. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.
West Virginia is one of more than two dozen states that have pushed similar legislation this year.
**Editor’s Note: This story has been edited and updated to reflect NPR story guidance on transgender people.