Arizona proposal to ban transgender students from female sports teams advances in first hearing
Transgender athletes from grade school through university would have to play in the sport that aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth, a legislative panel decided Thursday, reigniting a debate over fairness in school sports.
The bill is the first of a number of proposals that address LGBTQ issues, including a "bathroom bill" that would bar trans individuals from using a school bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Lawmakers have introduced a host of other bills affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth, including proposals that would require parental permission before students could enroll in a sex-ed class or join a club related to sexual or gender identity.
On Thursday, proponents and opponents of the proposed "Save Women's Sports Act" bill packed into a Senate hearing room to debate Senate Bill 1165.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, would apply to all school sports, from grade school through college, if they involve a publicly funded institution. It would apply to private schools as well if they face teams from a public school.
School governing boards would have to establish sports teams based on biological sex and would bar "students of the male sex" from participating in any sport intended for females, women or girls.
The bill is needed, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said, to protect girls who want to compete in sports.
But Democrats said the legislation is a solution looking for a problem, noting a lack of complaints about trans females crowding out other girls in school sports.
Petersen said the bill would clarify the guidelines for sports competitions going forward.
"It’s absolute lunacy to think it’s OK to allow a male to dominate in a female sport," said Petersen, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to situations in other states.
Jadis Argiope said the bill is needed to be fair to female athletes.
“I know what it’s like to go through the process of being trans," said Argiope, who is transitioning to female.
When it comes to sports competition, Argiope told lawmakers, "The reality is we’re stronger, we’re taller, we can take in more oxygen. ... There are very clear, obvious advantages."
Parents of transgender children, as well as some of the students themselves, testified about the challenges faced by people who transition. Preventing these students from competing on a team that matches their gender identify only compounds problems and insults their identities, they said.
A tearful Vanessa Anspach told lawmakers the bill would harm younger students who play in intramural sports for fun.
Her 10-year-old daughter, who is transgender and plays on her school’s soccer team, poses no threat to other girls on her team, Anspach said.
Besides, only a sliver of high school athletes go on to participate in collegiate sports, she said.
“Let’s be real, this bill is about little kids," Anspach said.
AIA neutral on bill, sees few requests
The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which governs school sports, is neutral on the legislation, said Barry Aarons, the organization's lobbyist.
He outlined the policy AIA follows when issues arise regarding transgender athletes: The situation is evaluated by a medical advisory committee, with a recommendation sent to the organization's executive board.
Of 12 such cases, Aarons said, seven have resulted in trans students getting the OK to participate on the sports team that matches their gender identity.
AIA has seen far more controversy over requests for athletes to transfer schools than it has over trans issues, Aarons said.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line 4-3 vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. Barto did not participate; she was home sick, Petersen said.
Barto advanced a similar bill two years ago, but it failed to pass the Senate.
Another bill dealing with transgender issues, Senate Bill 1130, sponsored by Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, was on the agenda, but did not get a hearing. It's unclear why Petersen held the bill, but it could be considered in the coming weeks.
The bill would make doctors subject to felony penalties if they performed sex-change operations or offered other care for children or vulnerable adults who identify their sex as other than the gender they were born with.
Other bills introduced at the Legislature, but not yet scheduled for a hearing, include:
- Senate Bill 1138, which would prevent physicians from performing gender transition services for a minor child, as well as making any referrals for such services. The bill also would prevent public tax dollars going to any facility that provides such services to minors. It's sponsored by Petersen.
- Senate Bill 1045 would penalize school personnel, from principals to counselors, if they encourage a student to withhold their transgender identity from their parents, or if the school official withholds such information from the parent. It also would make it a felony for a physician to do any kind of gender-altering treatment on a minor. It's sponsored by Rogers.
- Senate Bill 1046, also sponsored by Rogers, is similar to the bill the Judiciary Committee approved earlier Thursday. It would allow any student who challenges their assignment to a team to appeal the decision if they present a doctor's testimony establishing the student's gender based on the student's internal and external reproductive organs, a genetic analysis and the student's testosterone levels.
- House Bill 2011 would require parental consent before a student could join any public school club or group involving sexuality, gender identity or gender. It's sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.
- House Bill 2061 would require parental consent to enroll a child in a sex-education course at either district or charter schools, and would require the school to give the parents access to the curriculum before such permission is granted. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix.
- House Bill 2314 would require public school students to use the bathroom that matches the sex they were assigned at birth, and provides reasonable accommodations for students who would balk at such a policy. It also would permit anyone who encounters a trans person in a bathroom that does not correspond with the sex assigned at birth to the trans individual to sue the school, if the school gave permission for such bathroom use. The bill is sponsored by Kavanagh.