Texas bill restricting transgender student athletes’ participation passes Senate

In the final days of this year’s third special session, Texas lawmakers passed a bill that would restrict transgender student athletes from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

The legislation is primed to become law after the state Senate voted 19-12 on Friday to pass House Bill 25, authored by state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring. The Senate floor vote followed a swiftly held committee meeting where a 24-hour notice rule was suspended and the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to advance the legislation. Under HB 25, students would only be permitted to compete on sports teams that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate that was assigned at or near the time of birth.

Friday’s vote is the fifth time this year the Senate has passed legislation targeting transgender youth participation in school sports. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have pushed for the legislation during this year’s sessions. With HB 25 advancing, Texas joins at least five other states that have passed such legislation.

Critics of the legislation, including transgender advocates, say it unfairly targets transgender children and puts them and cisgender children at risk for being discriminated against.

Getting the bill through the House proved to be a major hurdle for lawmakers this year after legislation faltered in the lower chamber during the regular session and two subsequent special sessions, which included a House quorum break.

The birth certificate requirement under HB 25 goes further than rules from University Interscholastic League, which governs public school sports in Texas. According to current UIL rules, gender is determined by a student’s birth certificate, though the governing body also accepts birth certificates that were modified to match a student’s gender identity. UIL has said the process for checking birth certificates is left up to schools and districts.

HB 25 would disallow acceptance of modified birth certificates by requiring a student’s gender to be determined by their original birth certificates unless their original certificate contained a clerical error. However, it’s not clear the process for how a birth certificate will be checked for whether it has been legally modified.

In the House, an amendment was added, but later removed in the Senate, to the legislation that defined "biological sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female as determined by the sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous profile of the individual at birth." Another House amendment ensures the legislation complies with state and federal laws related to the confidentiality of student medical information.

Swanson has said that the intention of HB 25 is to "protect the right to fair competition in sports" for women and girls and uphold Title IX, a federal law that prohibits education institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who authored similar legislation this special session, said during a news conference in support of HB 25, passage of the bill had "been a long time coming."

"A lot of times we say bills are transformational, this is actually one that drew the line in the sand: that biological females should stay with biological females and biological males should stay with biological males."

During the House floor debate on HB 25, Democrats said legislators should think about the mental burden such legislation would have on transgender children who already predisposed to bullying and thoughts of suicide.

"This [bill] is not about girls' sports, this is about trying to police people and their behavior and their gender expression," said state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, secretary of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus.

Major employers within the state have also signaled their opposition to the law, with about 70 employers and investors signing onto a letter from the coalition Texas Competes, speaking out against restrictive state policies that target LGBTQ people.

In the past year, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth in the U.S. have seriously considered suicide and one in five have attempted suicide, according to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. More than 90 percent of LGBTQ Youth reported that recent politics have negatively impacted their mental health.

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ Texans, said in a statement that HB 25 tells transgender children "that Texas is not a safe place for them to live."

"Transgender kids, adults, and their families are not political collateral," Martinez said. "They deserve every fundamental right and opportunity that all other Texans have."

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