RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Transgender girls would be prohibited from participating in sports that correspond with their gender identity under a bill that advanced Tuesday in the North Carolina Senate.
The proposal is among the first to advance through committee after Republicans returned from spring recess this week with newly veto-proof margins — made possible by Mecklenburg County Rep. Tricia Cotham’s recent switch from Democrat to Republican. The gain essentially eliminates the need for Republicans to pull in a Democrat to override any veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, giving them a clear path to further similar LGBTQ+ restrictions passed by other states that hadn’t previously gained traction in North Carolina.
The Senate Education Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would designate middle and high school sports by biological sex, determined by “reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” While sponsors promoted the bill as a necessary precaution to protect the physical safety and emotional well-being of cisgender girls, they did not have an explanation for how it would be enforced.
The proposed ban, similar to those approved in at least 20 states, now heads to the Rules Committee and could reach the Senate floor for a vote as early as Thursday. A companion bill in the House will be debated in committee Wednesday morning.
Republicans have filed a flood of other bills aimed at transgender North Carolinians since gaining a supermajority earlier this month, including restrictions on gender-affirming medical procedures for trans youth and criminal penalties for public drag performances.
The drag bill, filed Tuesday, would group some “male or female impersonators” with exotic dancers and strippers under state law, prohibiting them from performing on public property or in the presence of minors. Performers could face felony charges after the first offense.
LGBTQ+ rights advocates say these GOP-backed bills, and hundreds more across the U.S., are anti-trans attacks disguised as protections for children, which use trans people as political pawns to galvanize GOP voters ahead of an election year.
But Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican and primary sponsor of the sports bill, contends it’s not anti-trans, but rather, pro-woman. She and other supporters shared stories of their own high school athletic careers, pointing to “biological disadvantages,” such as menstrual cramps, that they said trans women don’t have to deal with.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, a Republican, said a trans girl’s participation would “inherently disadvantage” female athletes like her two daughters. Trans girls, she said, could take away scholarship opportunities or spots on a team that Truitt argued should be reserved for cisgender girls.
“If we are truly to maintain a level playing field in women’s sports, biological sex must supersede gender preference,” she said.
Dr. CK Raynes Wilder, a North Carolina physician, said transgender exclusion wouldn’t inherently protect cisgender athletes from injury and would further isolate a small population of students already at risk of bullying and mental health challenges.
No more than 15 transgender athletes are signed up to play high school sports in the state this year.
“There is no actual evidence to support the claim that allowing transgender athletes to participate will reduce or harm participation in girls’ sports,” Wilder said. “On the other hand, there is strong evidence that sports participation is an important childhood experience for all children.”
Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, likened the proposal to an infamous 2016 state law that restricted transgender access to public restrooms and prevented cities from enacting new anti-discrimination ordinances. Widely regarded as the blueprint for the present wave of legislation targeting trans people nationwide, that law was eventually rolled back after North Carolina suffered substantial economic backlash.
Chaudhuri warned of heightened rates of suicide among trans kids and urged lawmakers to prevent North Carolina from becoming as restrictive as Texas and Florida.
“This bill traffics in fear — 15 of them to be targeted,” Chaudhuri said. “To be clear, I think it puts our most vulnerable kids in harm.”