Texas set to become the 10th GOP-led state to enact a sports ban for trans kids

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Texas Democrats say the bill is cruel to transgender students and would lead to bullying.

Texas is barreling toward passing a statewide ban on transgender athletes playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

If passed, Texas would become the tenth state in the country to enact such a ban, and the ninth state to enact a ban just this year.

Texas House lawmakers passed the bill, H.B. 25, by a 76-54 vote on Thursday night after many hours of debate.

Under the proposed law, the state would look at gender markers on Texas students' birth certificates to determine which sports teams they are allowed to join.

Although the University Interscholastic League, which is in charge of school sports rules in Texas, already requires this, the bill goes further.

It states that the gender is only correct on a birth certificate if it was recorded at or near the time of the athlete's birth, or if it was changed to correct a clerical error.

The lawmakers debated how schools would go about determining whether an athlete's birth certificate had been changed through a clerical error or because they had legally changed their birth certificate. Texas allows people to change their gender marker if they obtain a court order.

Democratic Texas state Rep. James Talarico argued that the bill was "unenforceable," as it would not likely be effective at determining if a student is transgender or cisgender.

However, Talarico argued, the policy could eventually lead schools to demand that transgender students out themselves, and even to examine students' genitals to determine which sports team they should be allowed to play on.

"It opens the door for anyone challenging gender of a sports competitor to use it to invade students' privacy," Talarico said. 

He called the policy both a "legal liability" for the University Interscholastic League and an "administrative headache for coaches and administrative staff." 

Democratic state Rep. Jon Rosenthal said the bill would only create more problems. If Republicans' bill becomes law, Rosenthal said, students would use it as a tool for bullying other kids, whether they were transgender or cisgender.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate, which passed a similar sports ban in September.

House Democrats previously blocked anti-trans legislation by running out the clock on a bill prohibiting transgender kids from playing on the team corresponding to their gender.

In May, Democrats offered amendments and asked each other at length about how they would work, which kept the debate going long enough to kill a previous trans sports ban. Democrats continued some of these tactics on Thursday night, but the vote went on nonetheless.

On Thursday evening, as the House inched closer toward a vote, Democratic state Rep. Ann Johnson suggested that the bill was no more than an effort by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to win re-election.

"Is this to protect girls or because we are being asked to do something for someone's else benefit?" Johnson asked. "And I am talking about political benefits."

Last month, Abbott called for a third special legislative session to push through the anti-trans sports bill after it failed to pass in the second special session.

Don Huffines, a former state senator who is running against Abbott in the Republican gubernatorial primary, has criticized Abbott for not enacting more anti-trans policies.

In August, Huffines shared a video of himself presenting web pages from the Department of Family and Protective Services that he said were "promoting transgender policies." The websites provided suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ youth and other information.

The websites were taken down hours after the Huffines' shared the video, the Houston Chronicle reported. The department's media relations director sent an email minutes after the tweet with the subject line "Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda."

LGBTQ groups and civil rights organizations have called the bill cruel and unnecessary.

"HB 25 singles out transgender children and permanently prohibits them from the foundational opportunities that sports provide children, like camaraderie with friends and learning lessons about teamwork, sportsmanship, and healthy exercise," Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said in a statement on Thursday.

"There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat," Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said. "It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes."

If the bill passes the Texas Senate and makes it to Abbott, who has been supportive of the bill, Texas would be the ninth state this year to enact this legislation. Florida, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee have all passed similar bills this year.

In March, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem implemented a transgender sports ban through an executive order. Idaho passed a similar bill in 2020.

Both Idaho and West Virginia's laws have been blocked by the courts.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.