GOP lawmakers seek transgender ban on school sports




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A Republican legislator from Phoenix wants to ban Arizona transgender students from athletic teams that align with their gender identity. 

Rep. Nancy Barto’s House Bill 2706 also mandates a medical review of a student’s anatomy, hormone levels and genetics if the student’s biological sex is disputed while seeking to participate in sports programs at public and private schools, community colleges and state universities. 

The bill, which is co-sponsored by 22 other House Republicans, would divide all interscholastic and intramural sports teams into male, female and co-ed teams “based on biological sex.” Under that definition, the measure prohibits transgender girls from participating in girl’s sports.

In a press release, Barto said HB2706 is about protecting women and girls. 

“Female student athletes should not be forced to compete in a sport against biological males, who possess inherent physiological advantages,” Barto said. “When this is allowed, it discourages female participation in athletics and, worse, it can result in women and girls being denied crucial educational and financial opportunities.”

Jeannine Brandel, president of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board, said girls in school sports are not facing disadvantages because of their transgender peers.

“I have not seen an unfair advantage,” she said. “In my opinion, transgender people aren’t (transitioning) to compete and gain an advantage as an athlete.”

Brandel said AIA’s Sports Medicine Committee reviews applications on a case-by-case basis of students wanting to play in athletic teams of their identified gender. In the four years she’s been on the board, Brandel said that no application has been denied. 

AIA policy places preference on a student’s gender identity.

“All students should have the opportunity to participate in AIA activities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the sex listed on a student’s eligibility for participation in interscholastic athletics or in a gender that does not match the sex at birth,” the policy states. 

According to the press release on Barto’s bill, similar proposals have been introduced in Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Washington.

In a statement to Arizona Mirror, Brianna Westbrook, vice-chair for the Arizona Democratic Party, said HB2706 distracts from needs in public school funding. 

“Nancy Barto’s bill is just another example of the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation proposed by the Arizona Republican Caucus. They would rather attack students who compete in sports than address the need for proper and adequate funding for Arizona public schools.

“Transgender students of all gender identities deserve to live and compete in sports according to their gender identity,” she said.

In 2017, Westbrook became the first transgender candidate to run for an Arizona congressional seat. 

It’s unclear if HB2706 will get any traction. Two notable Republicans — House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, chair of the House Education Committee — didn’t co-sign Barto’s proposal. 

‘Policing and invading young people’s bodies’

Barto titled her proposal the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” 

“This is a commonsense protection for women and girls who have worked hard to develop their athletic talent in the pursuit of success and achievement in a sport.” Barto said. “The bill ensures a level playing field for all students who play sports.”

Critics like Madelaine Adelman, co-founder the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, a group that advocates for safer learning environments for LGBTQ youth, say Barto’s statements that female athletes are at a disadvantage when compared to men is a generalization. 

“If that were the case, according to this logic, all girls have the same athletic abilities and all boys are better than all girls. And that is not the case,” she said. “We all come with our own talents, we all have our own body types. The gender assigned at birth is not the sole variable that determines a person’s athletic prowess.”

Adelman added that HB2706 is about exclusion, not inclusion, as Barto suggests.

“This bill is part of an overall strategy across the country to scapegoat a vulnerable population and exclude them from foundational components of school including extracurricular activities in order to gain public attention and votes.

“How cruel it is to try to remove a healthy activity like sports, where being part of a team and gaining a sense of belonging is fostered. How cruel it is to remove that from a group of students who are so frequently told that they do not belong in schools,” she said.  

But Barto’s bill doesn’t just cover women’s sports. 

It could also stop all transgender students from partipating in their preferred teams. The bill requires that, if a student’s sex is disputed, the student has to provide a doctor’s note with the student’s genetic makeup, levels of testosterone, and “internal and external reproductive anatomy.” HB2706 doesn’t say who can make or resolve those disputes.

Those requirements amount to “policing and invading young people’s bodies so that they can play sports,” said Adelman. 

Barto’s proposal adds to a list of proposed legislation targeting Arizona’s transgender communities

Adelman said that if a transgender student is blocked from playing in a team because of their gender identity, as Barto’s measure proposes, that could amount to discrimination and a violation of Title IX, the federal law governing gender discrimination in schools.

‘This will hurt children’

Barto’s bill gags any government, accrediting agency or athletic organization from investigating or taking “an adverse” action against a public or private school, state university or community college that maintains sports teams exclusive to students “of the female sex.”

HB2706 also allows any student who “suffers any direct or indirect” harm from violations of Barto’s transgender sports ban or who are subject to retaliation to sue for civil damages. 

Any public or private school, state university or community college can also file a civil suit if it “suffers any direct or indirect” harm from violations of the ban. 

On Twitter, Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, called Barto’s bill “cruel.”