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Tenn. Senate passes bill to ban biological male trans athletes from competing in girls' sports

Selina Soule
Selina Soule |

The Tennessee Senate passed a bill Monday that would bar biological males who identify as transgender from competing in female sports in high school and middle school. 

Senate Bill 228, sponsored by Republican Sen. Joey Hensley, passed by a vote of 27-6. The companion version of the bill in the state’s House, introduced by Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky, has yet to be voted on. 

"This bill requires, for the purposes of participation in a middle school or high school interscholastic athletic activity or event, that a student's gender be determined by the student's sex at the time of the student's birth, as indicated on the student's original birth," a summary of the bill explains.

"If a birth certificate does not appear to be the student's original birth certificate or does not indicate the student's sex at birth, the student must provide other evidence to indicate the student's sex."

Proponents of the bill say that sex differences create an unbridgeable gap in athletic performance as males, regardless of how they identify, have inherent physiological advantages. 

"To say it's not a problem in Tennessee may be true, but it will be a problem in Tennessee probably sooner than we think," Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts said in response to critics who say the issue is not presently affecting the Volunteer State, according to The Tennessean

"For anyone in this chamber to say that this is not a problem or this is not going to be a problem, or we don't need to deal with it ... it is a problem that is emerging with a great deal with steam," he said.

Roberts contended that "To deny that it's a problem is to deny reality."

By contrast, opponents of the bill, such as state Democratic lawmakers and the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, say the measure is discriminatory.

"Protecting women’s sports is important, but transgender girls do not threaten them," said Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the Tennessee ACLU, in a Monday statement. She noted that the organization is willing to take the matter to court.

“The vast majority of transgender students are not elite athletes. They just want to play sports for fun, with friends and classmates, to feel a sense of community and camaraderie, and to learn to respect and work together with coaches and teammates.”

Last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, argued that allowing transgender-identifying males to participate in female-only athletics will “destroy” women’s sports. 

Tony Perkins, a Baptist pastor and head of the national Christian conservative lobbying organization Family Research Council, voiced his support for the legislation in an op-ed Tuesday. 

In March of last year, Idaho became the first state in the nation to adopt a law requiring high school and collegiate level sports to be sex-segregated. 

The ACLU in that state summarily filed a lawsuit alleging that it was discriminatory based on “gender identity,” and its constitutionality is presently being litigated in federal court in Hecox v. Little.

Following Idaho’s lead, several other states have introduced similar measures, six of which have passed through at least one legislative chamber.

The state efforts to preserve women’s sports come amid a greater push at the federal level by the White House and Congress to pass legislation to codify federal discrimination protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, an update to the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would add “gender identity” as a protected category in civil rights laws. 

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to define “sex” to include “sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

A nonpartisan coalition of ideologically diverse women is reportedly planning to picket the White House on Monday in protest of the order, contending that their rights, sports, and spaces must be legally protected based on biological sex.

“Women and girls demand the recognition of our full humanity as a sex class. We are not a ‘gendered identity status.’ We do not exist to validate the identity claims of men and boys. Nor are we human shields for men and boys who are vulnerable in male single sex spaces,” the “Women Picket DC” website reads. 

The Biden Justice Department has also withdrawn the support the Trump administration had previously given for a lawsuit in Connecticut where a few female track-and-field athletes are suing the state athletic association over a policy allowing transgender-identified males to compete in female athletic competitions. 

The girls and their attorneys maintain that allowing biological males to compete in this way violates Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in the educational arena, including in interscholastic sports. 

A court hearing was held on Friday on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge did not rule and said that a decision could take a few weeks, according to local outlet Fox61

"Throughout my four years in high school, I was forced to compete against biological males. Girls across Connecticut and New England all knew the outcome of our races long before the start and it was extremely demoralizing," said Selina Soule, one of the track athletes suing the athletic association, in a statement.

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