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Senate Republicans approved a bill barring transgender women and girls in Arizona from playing on girls’ and women’s teams in K-12 and university sports.
The legislation, which won the support of all 16 Republican senators, would change state law to categorize transgender girl student athletes as “biological males.”
Republican lawmakers, some of them invoking their daughters and granddaughters, said Senate Bill 1165 will protect the sports from the threat of transgender athletes and preserve fair competition. Democrats called the measure “state-sanctioned bullying,” saying it was invasive and traumatizing for transgender youth.
The measure would govern intramural and interscholastic teams sponsored by a private or public school that compete with public K-12 schools, colleges and universities. It requires sports teams to fit into three categories, solely based on biological sex: male, female and coed.
It would ban transgender girls and women from playing on a team that aligns with their gender identity by stipulating that biological men can’t play on teams meant for biological women.
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said SB1165 will harm children.
“This is going to have our girls pull down their panties and show their genitalia to prove they are who they know they are,” she said. “I just simply cannot believe that we are doing this. I believed some sense of decency, of love for children, would come through and we would not do something that I believe will harm children. … This is going to keep me up at night.”
The bill does not detail how athletic teams must determine the biological sex of its athletes, but other Democrats alluded to the proposal being an overreach into a child’s body.
Sen. Nancy Barto, the Phoenix Republican who introduced the bill, pushed back against that framing and said that the bill doesn’t require the inspection of a student athlete’s genitalia. She said it is up to doctors to determine’s an athlete biological sex for the purposes of participating in a sports team through a routine physical exam. The determination can be done by inspecting a birth certificate, Barto said.
She reiterated the notion that girls and women athletes are being targeted by their transgender friends and peers.
“This is about protecting the safety of women and their sports,” Barto said. “There is no doubt that, if we don’t address what some are calling some kind of superfluous issue right now, women’s sports is going to go away and women are going to be hurt.”
Barto’s bill is part of a national trend in recent years to target trans youth and their participation in girl’s sports teams at schools. According to The New York Times, there are 10 states that have bans similar to SB1165.
The legislation passed on a 16-13; Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the 30-member chamber. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.
The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization, called SB1165 an “ugly attack” on transgender and nonbinary young people.
“We can promote both women’s sports and transgender inclusion at the same time — they are not mutually exclusive, as some politicians would have you believe,” Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “While Arizona lawmakers are devoting energy to a divisive solution in search of a problem, we know that transgender and nonbinary young people are struggling and continue to face increased risk for bullying and suicide.”
Studies show transgender youth face higher risk of suicide, and discrimination is a factor that impacts that trend, according to a report from The Williams Insitute, which researches sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the legislation does not exclude transgender athletes from participating in sports.
“I understand people today can express whatever identity they want, and more power to them,” he said. “This isn’t about that. This is in the interest of fairness and opportunity for women and girls.”
In 2020, Barto introduced a similar legislation that died when the legislature quickly wrapped up that year’s work at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A key difference between the 2020 bill and SB1165 is that the latter doesn’t include a clause that required a signed physician’s statement of the student’s genetic makeup to establish their biological sex if the student’s gender identity was disputed.
Both versions are dubbed the “Save Women’s Sports Act.”
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