Critics and supporters of a bill that would ban transgender female students from participating on many school sports teams based on gender identity delivered testimony before a S.C. House subcommittee on Tuesday.
Without the bill, supporters predicted the demise of women’s sports. The bill’s opponents said the proposal was unenforceable and fans flames of transphobia and anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
The chief sponsor of HB.3477, Republican S.C. Rep. Ashley Trantham, R-Pelzer, said the proposal aims to preserve an even playing field for young women seeking recognition for athletic achievement.
Trantham’s “Save Women’s Sports Act” stems from a 2016 rule by the South Carolina High School League that allows transgender students to participate in sports based on their gender identity. Trantham introduced testimony Tuesday, saying, “This harmful policy would steal opportunities for girls and women.”
Trantham’s bill, one of several like it being proposed nationwide, requires teams to be designated “based on biological sex,” and stipulates women’s teams “may not be open to students of the male sex.”
Supporters of the bill included former high school athletes and parents who echoed Trantham, arguing it would be unfair for cisgender females, whose gender identity corresponds with their sex at birth, to compete against transgender female students.
Calling the bill discriminatory, opponents of the bill included medical doctors and LGBTQ advocates, who said fears over an unequal playing environment are unfounded.
“This bill is unnecessary,” said Chase Glenn, executive director of the Charleston-based Alliance for Full Acceptance. “Transgender people do not have an inherent advantage in sports by virtue of their transition. In reality, transgender women and girls compete at levels similar to all women. No female transgender athlete has qualified for the Olympics, despite rules permitting participation that have been in place for more than a decade.”
Trantham said no incidents of trans students participating on high school girls sports teams have been reported in South Carolina.
Charleston-area Democratic state Rep. Spencer Wetmore was the only legislator present who raised questions Tuesday, posing queries about how the bill would be enforced.
Eli Bundy, a 16-year-old trans student from Charleston, was just one of the bill’s critics to cite already-high suicide rates among transgender youth.
“Transgender youth have one of the highest rates of suicide of any demographic,” Bundy said. “Around 40% of transgender people attempt suicide at least once in their life. Please consider myself and my transgender peers in light of that fact.”
Charleston Dr. Elizabeth Mack, one of 44 health care providers who signed a letter in opposition to the bill, said the pandemic has exacerbated suicide among transgender youth.
“This bill says to our trans youth, not just those interested in sports, a population already struggling through this pandemic: ‘We do not support you,'” she said. “I have seen far too many suicide attempts and completions in my career, but even more so in the last year — and the LGBTQIA+ population is at particular risk.”
Trantham told the City Paper she was “really concerned” after hearing testimony about trans youth suicide rates, but said other factors may be at play.
“I just don’t think that sports is what’s pushing them over the line. They’ve got a lot on (their minds),” she said during a phone call Tuesday afternoon. “Some may argue, ‘Well, this is adding more to it.’ I don’t agree. I believe that there’s other outlets for them to participate sports.”
The House bill, which has one Democratic and 29 Republican sponsors, includes language used in “Save Women’s Sports Act” proposals in Ohio, Oklahoma and Montana, just a handful of states considering similar measures. Trantham said the legislation was not derived from a template used in other states.
From Charleston, S.C. Reps. Lin Bennett and Mark Smith are among the bill’s Republican sponsors.
Testimony was cut short Tuesday due to the legislative session, but will continue at a later date.