Monday, March 4, 2024

General Assembly passes trans athlete restrictions, could be veto-proof

The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCGA)
The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCGA).

Bills that would bar transgender girls from competing on female sports teams passed the North Carolina House of Representatives Wednesday, with the Senate following up by passing its version Thursday.  

Though both bills are titled Fairness in Women’s Sports, the House bill has a provision that will apply to college athletes, as well as public school students. The two chambers will need to negotiate on the final bill before it heads to the governor’s desk.

READ MORE: NHCSB reverses transgender sport team freedoms, meeting recessed over clash involving a Proud Boy

No Republican — including the recent turncoat Rep. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg), who ran last year as a Democrat championing LGBTQ rights — voted against either bill, with three House Democrats joining the majority. The final legislation will have enough support to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s likely veto. 

Thursday’s Senate vote passed 47-29 along party lines. Sens. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover) and Brent Jackson (R-Pender, Bladen, Duplin, Jones, Sampson) voted in favor. 

Senate Bill 631 states “athletic teams designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex.” It also stipulates females shall not play on male-designated teams unless there is no comparable female team, excluding wrestling. 

If passed, the bill will supersede any recent school board action on transgender sports participation. In February, the New Hanover County Board of Education decided to hold middle-school students to the same standards as high school interscholastic athletics, which follow North Carolina High School Athletic Association guidelines. 

THe NCHSAA requires transgender students to go through a lengthy evaluation to determine if they can play on the sports team opposite from their biological sex. The process includes medical history evaluations and affirmations from family members the student matches the gender they identify as.

Brunswick and Pender counties schools also follow NCHSAA guidelines for middle and high school.

However, the NCSAA will no longer be able to make those decisions if the Fairness in Women’s Sports Acts go into effect. 

Sens. Natalie Murdock (D-Chatham, Durham) and Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) tried to make amendments to the bill to prohibit “inspections” of a student’s sex. Murdock also suggested a ban on forms of conversion therapy, prohibition on sex offender involvement in school sports and establishment of a mental health program — both of which were tabled. 

Murdock described the bill as a distraction, saying lawmakers were “raging culture wars on the backs of children” without addressing the state’s real education problems, such as aging schools, learning loss, school shootings, and mental health. 

However, Republicans in both chambers have said the bill is “common sense.” 

“This is nothing more, nothing less than a pro-woman bill,” Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell, Mecklenburg), one of the bill’s sponsors, said during the Senate rules committee meeting on Wednesday. 

Chaired by Sen. Rabon, the committee heard from community members on both sides of the issue during the discussion.

Many who spoke in favor cited the need to honor Title IX protections for female athletes. Two former college competitors, both women, at the meeting urged the committee to pass the bill, stating it was unfair to compete alongside transgender women who perform on a different level than they do. Idaho congressperson Rep. Barbara Erhardt, visiting from her home state, also spoke in favor of the bill, having helped pass similar legislation in her state legislature. 

“Competitive sports is one of the few sports where sex differences matter,” citizen Sylvia Hatchel said during the meeting. 

Adversaries to the bill, which outnumbered proponents 9:6, argued it would exclude transgender students from sports, affecting their overall wellbeing, just to assert a power grab and rile up the conservative base. 

“This is about control and the ability to single out transgender youth,” Sean Radic, a transgender high school student, said at the meeting. 

The legislators in favor of the bill defended their motives, saying their intent is not hateful nor to keep anyone from playing sports. Some senators suggested there be a female team and a coed team instead of the male and female delineations. 

The opposition also included representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Democracy Out Loud, as well as many parents of transgender students defending the right for their children to be included. 

Both of the bills moved through the chambers at a quick pace. The house bill cleared the rules committee Wednesday morning and was placed on the House floor that afternoon.

While its original text only applied to interscholastic athletics in middle and high schools, an amendment was brought forth Wednesday to expand the scope of the bill to community colleges and universities. 

UNCW spokesperson Krissy Vick told Port City Daily the university does not have a statement on the bill at this time.

“This is a proxy for discrimination,” Rep. Vernetta Alston (D-Durham) said on the House floor. “The justifications for it are not supported by any real need and policies like it are finding less and less refuge under our law.”

She pointed out the state legislature could be opening itself up to litigation due to Title IX violations and judicial rulings. A federal court blocked a West Virginia bill banning transgender women from girls’ sports teams in 2021, with similar challenges occurring across the state. 

Alston also said only a few students in North Carolina would be affected by this bill, claiming the bill was targeted toward a non-issue.  

Republicans pushed back on those assumptions. 

“The rules created for Title IX at that time envisioned a biological sex definition,” Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) said in the meeting. “You can’t change the rules after the fact and try to pigeonhole it into a new definition that takes away the rights of my daughters, my granddaughters to compete in an event, fairly.”


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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