Bill Addressing Gendered Sports Back for Special Session

Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./POOL via The Texas Tribune

Perhaps the most controversial bill of the year sought to protect athletes from competing against opposite-gender opponents. The bill was authored by Sen. Charles Perry who calls it “a common-sense law to preserve the history, traditions, and provide safe competition.” LGBTQ activists say the bill is nothing more than an attempt to erase transgender people from Texas society.

Senate Bill 29 passed through the Senate in April 2021 but was not heard by the House of Representatives. By refusing to hear the bill, the House made an attempt to kill it. Following the Democrats’ walkout to prevent a vote on a restrictive voting bill, Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session that is expected to hear the bill and give legislators an opportunity to vote.

The bill has drawn the ire of numerous groups in Texas who support legislating rights specifically addressing the difficulties of children who grow up identifying as the opposite sex of that which they were born.

“With no evidence that transgender young people are trying to game the system for a competitive advantage, not just in Texas but across the country, there is no reason to move this kind of legislation forward to target this vulnerable population,” said Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign president in a May 2021 press release. “Transgender kids are kids and we should always let them play.”

Opponents of the bill point to Mack Beggs, the Texas wrestler who went undefeated in 2017. Beggs was born female but identifies as male. As part of her gender reassignment process, Beggs used testosterone to enhance typically male attributes. Under UIL rules in Texas, Beggs was only permitted to wrestle with other females.

Proponents make a similar argument using Beggs as an example. By competing against women who have low levels of natural testosterone, Beggs had a competitive advantage. Allowing transgender male athletes to compete against women would mean that in almost every sport, transgender athletes would have an advantage. This would remove opportunities for scholarships and advancement in sports to cisgender females.

According to accepted science, testosterone plays a key role in the development of strength, speed, and muscle mass. Studies indicate that up to the age of 12, male and female children are similar in their athletic abilities. Once males begin puberty, testosterone gives them an advantage over women.

This is the accepted reason that men’s running times are significantly faster than women’s times. All major sports organizations including the Olympics Committee and the NCAA ban women from competing while using testosterone as a hormone replacement. Female athletes must be off testosterone for one year for Olympic competition and 6 months for competition in NCAA events. Further, they must be tested to ensure they are in compliance.

The reason testosterone is banned is straightforward  it creates an unfair advantage. Testosterone is also a frequently abused hormone, particularly in weightlifting events and other physical sports events.

In its current form, SB 29 includes language that seems to get very little attention. Beyond simply banning competition, the bill also requires UIL to conduct a study to determine if allowing transgender athletes to compete creates an unfair advantage that takes away opportunities for cisgender athletes.

This is a prickly issue that gets people heated on both the left and the right, and justifiably so. Opportunities for young athletes to excel at sports are not only healthy but are also an opportunity to change their lives. Scholarships to prestigious universities are often contingent on athletics, making success on the field incredibly important.

Whether this is an issue fueled by fear or one that is being pushed by other emotions, there is currently no scientific evidence to disprove whether transgender athletes create an unfair advantage in comparison to their cisgender teammates, nor if preventing them from participation in sports is a factor leading to long-term mental health issues like depression.

Abbott has called for the bill to be heard in the special session, but a date and time are not currently available.

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