South Carolina’s top education official asked a House subcommittee Wednesday to stop a bill effectively banning transgender students from school sports, saying it would make it harder to make sure all students feel protected on campus. Minutes later, the Republican-controlled committee gave the OK for the bill to move ahead.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman, also a Republican, was the last person to speak to the House Judiciary subcommittee after hours of testimony on H.3477.

“I felt I had to call you today to give you my stance on this bill,” she said, explaining that she had just watched her hometown’s women’s basketball team win the state championship earlier in the day.

A House Judiciary Subcommittee heard testimony on Wednesday | Screenshot

The proposal, similar to many being considered across the country, forces schools to designate sports teams by gender and bans transgender students from participating according to their gender identity if it is different than their sex at birth.

“My responsibility as state superintendent is to make sure that every child, every child feels protected when they are in school, and when they are on the athletic field. And I believe that this bill does damage to that,” she said.

Currently, South Carolina High School League policy considers any questions about participation individually. The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Ashley Trantham, R-Pelzer, told the City Paper last week there have been no instances or complaints over transgender women participating in school sports in South Carolina.

“It’s a very sensitive personal situation that needs to be looked at individually,” Spearman said, praising the league’s handling of the policy. “This is not something that we need to legislate from Columbia.”

The subcommittee voted 3-1 to advance the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee. Folly Beach state Rep. Spencer Wetmore was the only Democrat present at the meeting and the only vote against the bill. Republicans present, including Moncks Corner Rep. Sylleste Davis, North Charleston Rep. Chris Murphy and Greenwood Rep. John McCravy, voted to give the bill a favorable report to the committee.

Spearman, a Republican, was first elected as state superintendent in 2014. At the time of her reelection in 2018, voters also voted down a proposal to make the schools chief a position appointed by the governor. A proposal led by House Speaker Jay Lucas would put the same referendum back on ballots for voters to decide again in 2022. Former Superintendent Jim Rex was the last Democrat to hold any statewide elected office, from 2007 to 2010.