A Senate committee today endorsed Sen. Missy Irvin’s SB 354 to prohibit transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.
The vote was 5-3, with three Democrats opposing the bill.
Irvin refused to acknowledge there was such a thing as transgender girls. She referred persistently to “biology” as sole determinant. She insisted it prohibited no one from participating, when it transparently is aimed at doing that. She didn’t discuss why she didn’t move to require a transgender male to participate as a girl. She was joined by a representative of a religious right legal group who’s been traveling around the country promoting this cookie-cutter legislation elsewhere.
Irvin cited no instance of this being an issue in Arkansas. She said she wanted to prevent it from happening. Sens. Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield posed questions about the legislation, including how the state would know a transgender girl was biologically a boy. They’d have to go through a sports physical first, they were told.
Rules of the Arkansas Athletic Association Arkansas say birth certificates state the sex of an athlete, but it will accept a changed birth certificate as gender identity.
Holly Dickson of the ACLU said federal law and the U.S. Constitution should protect transgender students and this law likely would be applied illegally and unconstitutionally. She said it opens all women to questions about their femininity and masculinity and reinforces stereotypes that women are weaker and in need of protection from competing with men. She said trans athletes don’t have an advantage in sports. But they experience discrimination and violence that makes it difficult for them to even stay in school. “The idea that they have an advantage because they are trans ignores the reality of their lives.” She noted that the bill doesn’t prevent trans boys from participating on girls’ teams, even if they are taking testosterone treatment.
The bill reinforces hostility to trans children, Dickson said.
Irvin brought in a Minnesota woman to testify against the bill. She said women had been harmed by the participation of trans athletes in her sport of powerlifting.
A transgender educator said the bill, as written, would prohibit gender bias complaints by women for any reason.
Michele Lynch, leader of an anti-union teachers organization, said she had polled the issue and found most in support of the bill.
Dr. Janet Cathey, an oby/gyn, has cared for transgender patients, co-founded the UAMS Gender Clinic and now works for a non-profit. “Human biology does not always fit into categories,” she said. “An assigned gender is only a piece of what creates a gender.” She said gender identity is innate and cannot be changed, not merely a function of anatomy. She said this as a doctor who’s likely treated more transgender people than any doctor in Arkansas.
She said sports had never been an issue in her years of working with transgender people. “By the time a child comes out as a trans female they’ve been through tremendous struggle to get there. It’s not a decision that’s made lightly.” She said there’s no medical evidence that a trans female has an advantage over other females at the non-elite level. “These are just kids who want to play games.” All the major medical associations say “trans females are females.”
Look what experts recommend, she said. The NCAA and the International Olympic Committee have adopted trans-inclusive policies and they don’t include anatomy, chromosomes or what a birth certificate says. “If these are the guidelines for national and international competition. I don’t understand why we need something more exclusive.”
Think of what mothers teach, she said. Don’t leave anybody out. “We were better people because we include everbody.” She said the bill demeans girls. “This is saying to girls, to make things fair, we have to exclude people.”
“These are children and we should let them play.”