CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Transgender athletes in West Virginia middle and high schools would be banned from competing on teams relating to their preferred sexual identity under a bill passed Thursday by the House of Delegates.
The bill passed on a 78-20 vote with two delegates absent. It now goes to the state Senate.
Debate on the bill lasted more than an hour and often was emotional. Most of the delegates who spoke about the bill were Democrats. Some Democrats and other organizations called the bill discriminatory.
Wood County Republican Roger Conley, who supported the bill, said “it’s only fair that if you’re born a male, that you compete in male sports.“
Another supporter, Logan County Republican Margitta Mazzocchi, said when her daughter was 12 and 13, she played soccer with boys who were much bigger and powerful.
“We need to protect our little girls,” Mazzocchi said.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, a Monongalia County Democrat, raised her voice when she said her daughter left the state and “it’s this kind of bill that will ensure she will never come back. You are demonizing little children and you are demonizing my baby!”
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, an LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement that it is a “cruel bill that offers a solution in search of a problem.”
Sixteen other states allow transgender students to fully participate in sports without any issue, while legislation addressing the issue has been introduced in more than 20 states this year. The proposals come as a growing number of state high school athletic associations have enabled transgender athletes to play on teams based on their gender identity, and the NCAA has trans-inclusive guidelines for all its member schools.
“School sports are important,” Schneider said. “They teach our kids the value of discipline, teamwork, self-confidence and other essential life skills. No child should be denied that opportunity.”
When pressed by Democrats, bill supporters said the governing body for secondary school sports has not received any complaints about transgender athletes on teams that are different from their birth gender.
While the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, which oversees sports in public schools and many private schools, has no specific transgender athlete policy, SSAC executive director Bernie Dolan said Title IX “has nondiscrimination language that we support.”
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education programs or activities that receive federal funds.
Sean Hornbuckle, a Cabell County Democrat, said that “legally, we’re asking for a battle. We’re not going to be lawmakers, we’re going to be law breakers.”
A 2017 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school used state-level, population-based surveys to estimate that West Virginia had the highest percentage (1.04%) of residents ages 13 to 17 among all states who identified as transgender. That equated to about 1,150 teens.
Dolan said the SSAC is unaware of openly transgender students participating in scholastic sports currently or in the past. However, he said it’s the schools that indicate an athlete’s gender on an eligibility list, and “we do not have access to the school records.”
Under the bill, which only addresses single-sex sports, a student’s birth certificate would be used to confirm the student’s sex at birth for admission to public school for the purpose of sports participation. If a birth certificate is unavailable, a signed physician’s statement must be submitted indicating the student’s sex based solely on their “unaltered internal and external reproductive anatomy.”
“I came to Charleston to do good, to speak out against what I see is wrong,” said Marion County Democrat Joey Garcia, who voted against the bill. “If that means that I don’t get to come back to Charleston, then so be it.”
Editor’s note: According to the West Virginia Legislature’s website, Delegates Jonathan Pinson (R-Mason) of the 13th District and Johnnie Wamsley (R-Mason) of the 14th District voted for the bill (House Bill 3293), Delegate Joshua Higginbotham (R-Putnam) of the 13th District voted against it.