Fairness watchword at NC transgender sports ban hearing

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Beth Stelzer, founder of Save Women’s Sports, speaks in favor of HB 358 during a hearing before the Judiciary 1 House Standing Committee on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Calls for fairness predominated at a North Carolina legislative hearing Wednesday on a bill that would prevent transgender girls and women from competing in organized school sports designated for biologically female athletes.

A House judiciary committee debated and took testimony on the measure but did not vote on the Republican bill, one of dozens of measures filed nationwide this year on an emerging topic in the nation’s culture wars.

Similar bills have become law in at least four states since last year, most recently in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Any North Carolina bill would have to clear both legislative chambers before heading to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is a strong supporter of LGBT rights. Gay rights groups call the measure discriminatory.

The bill would prevent transgender women and girls from playing in middle school, high school and college athletic teams or competitions designated for females, including intramurals. The legislation would define a person’s sex as based “solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” It also would create a legal cause of action for a “biological female student” to sue if she alleges suffering from a policy violation or retaliation from a school.

Adult female athletes and their supporters told House members that the bill is needed because young women were in danger of losing their ability to be sports champions or to make teams, eroding their recent gains in society. They cited competitions in other states where transgender women have won women’s events.

“If we allow males to compete in female sports, there’s going to be men’s sports, co-ed sports, but female sports will fade away,” said Beth Stelzer, a Minnesota-based powerlifter and founder of Save Women’s Sports. “This bill is not a ban, it’s not rooted in hate or transphobia. It is simply to protect fairness for biological females.”

But parents of transgender girls told the panel the legislation would be devastating to their children, saying they don’t have any unfair advantage over other female athletes and that athletics gives them a place to belong.

“It may sound just like a small thing — participating in a sport, but it’s so much more than that.” said Kate Jenifer of Carrboro, whose 13-year-old transgender daughter, Madison, has competed in cheerleading and softball at her middle school. “It’s about being on a team just like any other girl. It’s about feeling included and accepted just for who she is.”

Julie Katz, a 16-year-old who plays high school volleyball in Greensboro and identifies as transgender, said opposing the measure is about “fairness, inclusivity and community.”

“Like all kids who like to be active, I have the right to play,” Julie said. “I’m better than some and not as talented as many. This bill says I can’t even sit on the bench.”

The bill wouldn’t prohibit transgender boys or men from playing on men’s teams. The number of transgender athletes in North Carolina high school athletics is unclear. A North Carolina High School Athletic Association committee that review requests from teenagers who identify to a different gender than on their birth certificate have received less than 10 requests since it was formed in 2019, the StarNews of Wilmington reported.

The 20 or speakers included Gregory Brown, an exercise science professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He said data shows people born as male are significantly stronger and faster than those born as women, even when men are using testosterone suppression and male-to-female hormones. But Dr. Deanna Adkins with the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care Clinic, who’s worked with over 400 transgender youth, said there’s “no evidence that the average transgender girl is any bigger, stronger, or faster than other girls.”

Should Cooper veto the bill, Republican sponsors would need some Democratic support to complete an override. One judiciary committee Democrat said during the meeting he was undecided.

“This is a complex bill,” said first-term Rep. Abe Jones, a Wake County Democrat. “It’s not simple.”

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