Banning trans athletes already failed twice in SC House. Now Senators will try

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After the House killed two bills that would have banned transgender girls and women from playing in high school and middle school sports, a state senator is pushing the proposal again — this time with support from almost half of the chamber.

A panel of senators on the Education Committee heard about two hours of testimony on the bill Thursday before deciding to come back in the summer to take up the issue again.

Lawmakers did not take a vote on the bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Cash, R-Anderson.

Transgender girls and women trying to compete in women’s sports is rare in South Carolina. Currently, the South Carolina High School League has a process for schools to apply to allow a transgender student to participate in women’s sports. Very few transgender students have applied to play in sports, with only four students going through the process since it was instituted in 2016. Two students, both trans girls, have been granted waivers.

The bill is part of a nationwide push to stop transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports, with proponents claiming that transgender women have a natural athletic advantage over their cisgendered counterparts. According to the LGBTQ rights group Freedom for All Americans, 35 similar bills had been filed across the country as of mid-March.

Palmetto Family Vice President Mitch Prosser testified Thursday that the bill was written in an effort to “save women’s sports.” Supporting this bill means supporting women, he said.

“Telling women that they’ll have to settle for second or third or fourth place because a biological male wants to compete in their sport, what message does that send to that female?” Prosser said.

Proponents also say that advantage can lead to lost opportunities for cisgender women.

“What we’re seeing now, as we continue this attack on the notion of gender … it’s going to have a very detrimental affect on the success of women in high school and in athletics and frankly, in the workplace,” bill co-sponsor S.C. Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg said.

Critics — which include LGBTQ advocates, a group of medical professionals, some teachers and S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman — have said that the bill is discriminatory and harmful to transgender youth and their mental health.

Dr. Elizabeth Mack, a Charleston pediatrician and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke out against the bill and specifically debunked certain provisions of the bill. Part of the bill says there are only two biological sexes, and Mack pointed out that is categorically false, and that some individuals are born with a combination of sexual characteristics and chromosomes.

“This bill speaks loudly to trans youth,” Mack said. “It tells them we do not support you.”

Mack also questioned how this bill would be enforced. Lawmakers have said that physicals performed by doctors before athletes are allowed to participate would determine the sex of a child, but Mack said those physicals do not include detailed genitalia examinations.

“Coming out before one is ready is an invasion of ones privacy and is developmentally devastating,” Mack said.

Ivy Hill, the executive director of Gender Benders, a transgender support group in the Upstate, called the bill’s revival in the Senate “shameful and ridiculous.”

“Trans girls are girls and deserve any opportunity as other girls in South Carolina,” said Hill, who uses they/them pronouns.

“This is manufactured, and what trans youth need is for elected officials to have their backs and stop these relentless attacks,” they added.

After about two hours of testimony, lawmakers ran out of time, despite a number of people still waiting to testify. To be fair, lawmakers decided to return sometime in the summer to take the remaining testimony on the bill.

The Senate took up the bill after Cash tried to insert the proposal in the state budget as a proviso, a temporary law that lawmakers sometimes use to get proposals passed that don’t succeed as standalone bills.

“The idea is it’s not fair for a young woman to compete against a young man who is identifying himself as a woman,” Cash said on the floor last week. “Men have distinct documented and well known advantages over women when it comes to things like foot speed and how high you can jump, and muscular structure.”

Democratic senators tried many times to get Cash’s proviso killed, but could not get the votes to do so. After private discussion, Cash later agreed to withdraw his proviso, and his transgender athletes ban was promptly scheduled for a subcommittee hearing.

“I am certainly willing for this issue to go through that (committee) process, and I think that’s going to be happening very shortly,” Cash said last week.

The bill may have more support in the Senate than it did in the House. Among its sponsors are 20 of the 46 members of the body, all Republicans. That doesn’t include ten other Republican members who may eventually show support for it.

In the House, two bills that would ban transgender women and girls were killed in the Judiciary Committee, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers called it a solution in search of a problem.

If lawmakers were to pass a transgender athletes ban, it’s impact could extend beyond affecting transgender youth to affecting the economy, critics say.

In early April, the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate sports, announced it would no longer hold championship events in states with discriminatory laws on the books. Championship events bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenue to local restaurants, bars and hotels.

“Our clear expectation as the Association’s top governing body is that all student-athletes will be treated with dignity and respect,” the NCAA said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them.”

In response to the NCAA’s statement, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said the organization should “mind its own business.”

If the state were banned from hosting NCAA championship games, it wouldn’t be the first time.

From 2001 to 2015, the NCAA banned South Carolina schools from hosting sanctioned championship events because the Confederate flag stood on the State House grounds. The NCAA reversed that decision in 2015, after the Legislature voted to remove the flag entirely from the Capitol complex following the deaths of nine Black Charleston churchgoers who were killed by a white supremacist.