House Republicans back ban on transgender girls, women athletes




Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

As the hours-long debate on whether transgender girls and women should be allowed to play the sports they love at Arizona schools and universities unfolded, JP Martin watched from the House gallery. 

Martin was busy live-Tweeting the legislative back-and-forth for Equality Arizona, an LGBTQ advocacy group where he works as the political director. The organization has been among the most vocal groups opposing House Bill 2706, the measure sought by a socially conservative religious advocacy group. 

As he watched the debate, Martin juggled posts on Twitter and Facebook, all the time texting on his phone.  

“I was texting with people from all over the state. They were crying, they felt upset,” he said. “I share all of those feelings.”

Some six hours after the Arizona House of Representatives began debating the bill, the chamber’s 31 Republicans all voted for the measure Tuesday night, giving it the minimum number of votes it needed to pass and be sent to the Senate.

The bill’s sponsor, Phoenix Republican Rep. Nancy Barto, told her colleagues that the measure is necessary because there’s a threat looming over Arizona — one that involves transgender girls who are athletes and want to compete in girl’s teams.  

“We are talking today about a real and growing threat to girl’s and women’s sports,” Barto said near the end of the debate on the House floor. “This is a bill to save women’s sports because, frankly, it won’t be saved if we don’t clarify the law and put men in men’s lanes and… put women in women’s lanes, because biological boys are outperforming them in every category, even if they are mediocre athletes.” 

HB2706 separates all of Arizona’s interscholastic and intramural sports teams into male, female and co-ed teams “based on biological sex.” Under that definition, the measure would prohibit transgender girls from participating in girl’s sports. The law would apply at all levels, from grade school to college and university teams.

Barto’s bill allows a student’s sex to be disputed by anyone, and requires the student in question to provide a “signed physician’s statement” indicating the student’s sex based on “an analysis of their genetic makeup.” 

“As the father of two little girls, do you think it’s OK for someone to compel me to get my little girls to get genetic testing? Maybe because they are winning … Maybe their appearance may make you question that (they are girls),” said Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix. “What is the burden? 

“What are we doing here?” he said. 

Some Republicans framed their support of the measure as siding to protect girls who they perceive are at a disadvantage over transgender athletes. 

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said HB2706 is about deciding whether “to protect the transgender student or to protect the female student” on the sports team.

Martin said he was hearing from people “angry (that transgender people) were being minimized into a problem.”

“There’s going to be a victim and you have to pick one? … This is not a zero-sum game,” he said. 

Barto and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, insisted HB2706 is a “pro-women” bill. The bill, they said, is about fairness and protecting the gains women athletes have accomplished so girls can participate in sports. 

“That is what we support: to protect the hard-fought gains of women,” Bowers said. 

Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, echoed on the House floor what other community groups and businesses have said: that HB2706 is discriminatory and will harm the state’s economy. 

“What we are doing here is going after the transgender community, transgender children,” said Hernandez, who is a co-founder of the legislature’s LGBTQ caucus. “This bill doesn’t protect anyone.”

Other Democratic members said HB2706 is “cruel,” would sanction bullying, and would push transgender students, who are at higher risk of depression and suicide, “over the edge” by singling them out.

But with every Republican present and siding with Barto, Bowers and the Center for Arizona Policy – a Christian advocacy group that opposes LGBTQ rights – the Democrats couldn’t stop the bill from passing. When the final vote was tallied, it won approval 31-29.

Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona, got up from his seat in the chamber’s third-floor gallery. He had spent the day working alongside Martin to get opposition to HB2706. Soto gave Martin a couple of pats on his back, and then headed for the door. 

On the floor below them, Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, began clapping. No one followed his lead. 

Thinking about the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, Martin said he’s sad about the “broken and harmful language” that he heard coming from HB2706 proponents. 

“It’s really tragic that people here in power don’t see they are enabling mistreatment, violence… even sexual assault. It all escalates,” Martin said. 

But he also felt energized. 

“It makes me sad … This idea that it could be killed in the Senate by President Karen Fann … seems like less of a possibility,” he said. “This empowers me to make the change that I want to see. Make sure the priority is Arizona’s kids irrespective of whether they are cis or trans.”