With only a week left in this year’s legislative session, a Seaford Republican plans to introduce a bill that would only allow trans athletes to participate in sports against players who match their biological sex.
Sen. Bryant Richardson said he filed Senate Bill 191, which he dubbed the Fairness in Girls’ Sports Act, because it is unfair to allow transgender women – biological males who transition into women – to play women’s sports.
“With this new transgender, men, boys identifying as women and calling themselves girls, entering in the sports arena,” he said, “it’s really set back the opportunities for girls, for women.”
Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, who is a wrestling referee and a sponsor of the bill, said in a news release that he’s seen firsthand the physical differences between male and female student athletes.
“There are certainly exceptions,” he said, “but on average, a boy is physically stronger and faster than a girl. We need to do all we can to protect girls and not place female athletes at a competitive disadvantage.”
When it comes to the actual data, though, one study has shown a decrease in muscle mass for trans women as they go through the gender transition, while another study showed that lowering testosterone levels didn’t bring trans women down to the level of cisgender women.
Sarah Warbelow, vice president of legal policy at the Human Rights Campaign, said that most of the data that people point to is between performance of cis men and cis women.
“There has been an overall lack of research on trans athletes,” Warbelow said. “Most of the research that exists is comparing men who are not transgender to women who are not transgender, who are adults. And so it really is comparing apples and oranges. … A trans woman is a woman. She’s not a cisgender man, and it’s really not an appropriate comparison.”
Richardson said he doesn’t know how many transgender athletes there are in Delaware or how many trans people there are in the state in general, but that his bill would stop them from competing before it becomes a problem.
“It’s not a problem,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a problem yet, but I don’t want it to be a problem in Delaware.”
Warbelow said that there is also a lack of data on the number of trans athletes, but pointed to Utah, which only has four transgender students participating in high school sports.
The focus of his bill, Richardson said, is to stop trans women from competing with cis women in high school, but the bill also bans trans men from competing with cis men in high school.
Richardson said he doesn’t think there are as many trans women in sports as trans men, but the bill bans both for simplicity.
“I don’t think there’s too many women trying to get into playing football by identifying as male and playing football,” he said. “But I think it’s an obvious problem when male athletes want to get on female athletes’ teams. … Just to make it clear, you just go by biological sex.”
National push banning trans athletes
Warbelow said several conservative organizations are responsible for pushing bills banning trans people from participating in sports.
“So there are organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, Moms for Liberty … that have been pushing these policies in states. … The conversation is introduced by the politician, the far right wing has responded to it, which then of course gets more support from a politician who’s afraid of a challenge from the right,” Warbelow said. “But it is not reflective of where the general public is on matters of equality for transgender people.”
An exception in the bill allows for girls to compete on a team with boys if there isn’t a girls team, and it wouldn’t include little league, because Richardson said sometimes girls play with boys on the same team.
According to a Gallup poll from May, 69% of Americans feel that transgender athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their birth gender, which is an increase from 2021, when 62% of Americans approved of that question.
Breaking it down by age reveals similar results, as 61% of those 18 to 34 agreed someone’s biological gender should determine the sport they play, compared to 71% of people 35 to 54, and 73% of people 55 years and older.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank that uses research to help “speed equality and opportunity for all,” 22 states have passed laws banning transgender athletes from participating in sports that match their gender identity.
Those states include Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and West Virginia.
World Athletics, an international sports association, updated its policy earlier this year and banned transgender athletes from competing in the sport that matches their gender identity if those trans athletes transitioned after they started puberty.
Warbelow said that basing a policy on trans women developing differently if they transition before or after puberty isn’t based on any concrete data.
“It’s based on assumptions about how and when people’s bodies develop and what it means for their athletic capabilities. … I think there is not adequate data to draw conclusions that transgender women are unable to play on equal terms with their cisgender peers,” Warbelow said.
Richardson said one of the reasons he didn’t get this bill out sooner was because he was working on other bills.
The bill is unlikely to be heard in a committee this year because the session ends June 30.
Richardson said he hopes it will get heard in January along with another bill he plans on sponsoring that would make it illegal for physicians to prescribe medication to transition minors.
Senate Bill 346, sponsored by Richardson, was introduced on the last day of the session in 2022, and is almost identical to the one he’s introducing this year.
That bill was assigned to the Senate Executive Committee, but never got a hearing and had no additional sponsors or cosponsors.
Warbelow said it’s important for trans people to play sports with their classmates because it teaches them useful skills.
“I also think when we’re talking about K through 12, it is also obscuring the entire purpose of athletics,” Warbelow said. “Which is about creating a space for hard work, teamwork, inclusion, learning skills that all young people need.”
Richardson said he doesn’t care what adults do with their bodies, but is worried because children are involved.
“I’m not going after trans people. They can live their lives anyway that they so choose. The government should not be interfering with that,” he said. “But when it comes to children, and when you see a gross unfairness or we see children being used and prescribed drugs where they’re not even known to be safe, then I think that’s where the government needs to step in.”
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