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Transgender students would be banned from competing on school sports teams based on their gender identity under a bill that passed the Texas Senate on Thursday.
Despite immense opposition from civil rights groups and Democrats, the upper chamber voted on an 18-12 vote to advance Senate Bill 29. The measure now heads to the Texas House.
The proposal would prohibit students from participating in a sport “that is designated for the biological sex opposite to the student’s biological sex as determined at the student’s birth.” Students would be required to prove their “biological sex” by showing their original, unamended birth certificates.
State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, argued on Wednesday that the prohibition is necessary to keep girls safe from injury and to retain fairness in interscholastic athletics. But Perry acknowledged that he doesn’t know of any transgender students currently competing in Texas school sports.
And medical professionals have largely debunked the argument that transgender athletes have an advantage, with one study showing people taking hormones did not have a significant performance edge in distance running.
Opponents said the Republican leadership-backed bill was a “fear tactic” in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.
“Trans kids, they just know they are not what their birth certificate says,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “And that’s where we’re creating a problem that we don’t need to.”
The measure would codify existing school athletic policy. The University Interscholastic League of Texas, which governs high school athletics and extracurricular activities, currently relies on students’ birth certificates to determine whether they participate in men’s or women’s athletics. Notably, the UIL recognizes changes made to birth certificates to alter a student’s gender marker, though that would no longer be allowed under the proposal.
Both the NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, and the International Olympic Committee allow athletes to compete based on their gender identity.
State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, suggested that if lawmakers were truly concerned with player safety, they’d focus on legislating injury-prone contact sports such as football. He also worried that the proposal could be harmful to cisgender or nonbinary students whose gender expressions don’t align with traditional social constructs. And he questioned whether his colleagues were trying to legislate a situation that isn’t widespread.
“I think we spend a lot of time anticipating things that aren’t going to happen,” Johnson said. “If this becomes a real problem, there might be a more subtle way we can handle it.”