House panel OKs ban on transgender girls playing female sports
PHOENIX — Saying boys are inherently stronger, a House panel voted Wednesday to ban anyone born male from competing in sports for girls, regardless of whether they have undergone transition surgery and hormone replacement.
“SB 1165 protects opportunities for women and girls in athletics by ensuring a level playing field,” Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, told members of the Judiciary Committee. “Ignoring biological realities hurts girls and women who should not be forced to compete against men playing on women’s sports teams.”
The 6-4 party-line vote on the measure, which already has cleared the Senate, comes despite any evidence that transgender girls in Arizona are outperforming and defeating cisgender girls. And Dr. Kristina Wilson, who serves on the medical advisory board of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, testified that out of 170,000 high school athletes there have been just 16 requests by transgender individuals to compete.
But the majority appeared to be swayed by stories from elsewhere.
Most notable is Lia Thomas, a star of the swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania, who began transitioning in 2019 while still competing on the men’s team. Then, as a woman, she has become a top competitor in those events.
Proponents said action is needed now to keep that from happening here, even though nothing in the legislation affects intercollegiate sports, which are not subject to state legislation.
The same panel on Wednesday also approved — and by the same margin — SB 1138. It outright forbids physicians from performing “irreversible gender reassignment surgeries” on anyone younger than 18.
That measure is not as comprehensive as the original proposal by Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert.
He had sought to make it illegal for health-care professionals to provide any gender transition procedures to minors. But amid opposition — and to get needed votes to get the measure out of the Senate — he had to carve out exceptions to allow pretty much everything short of actual surgery, including counseling and hormone treatments.
Petersen said there are studies that show the best thing to do is allow issues of gender dysphoria, where someone does not identify with the sex assigned at birth, is to let it “play out naturally,” giving teens the time before undergoing irreversible surgery.
But Brandie Reiner, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, told lawmakers that “gender affirming care” is the best preventative against mental distress, including suicide attempts.
It was the issue of who gets to participate in sports, though, that generated more discussion, including the testimony of transgender individuals on both sides of the debate. And some of that centered on numbers.
“Volleyball nets for girls are more than 7 inches lower than for boys,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy.
“A high school shot-put standard for boys is 36% heavier for boys than for girls,” she continued. “The girls’ basketball is smaller. The hurdle height for girls in high school sports is 33 inches where for boys it’s 36 inches.”
But Skyler Morrison, a 13-year-old transgender girl, had her own take.
“There is no epidemic of transgender girls dominating female sports,” she said. “This bill is creating a pointless and harmful solution to a harmful and nonexistent issue.”
Danielle Cortez told lawmakers how sports saved her life.
“Taking that away from anybody, regardless of gender identity, is wrong and it’s cruel,” she said. “We just want basic human dignity.”
Julie Egea, however, said she sees it from the perspective of her two daughters, age 16 and 9.
“Without this bill, we will only see the oppression of our daughters,” she said.
Egea said that, even at age 9, boys are stronger and faster than girls. And by 16, she said, the boys are more physical than the girls.
“If you allow the boys to play against the girls, girls are seriously going to get injured,” Egea said. She said that keeping those born as boys out of girls’ sports will “protect our girls’ mental health, protect their dreams, protect them from physical injuries and protect their futures.”
And Jadis Argiope, a transgender woman, said she agrees, saying that the biological differences between those born male and those born female cannot be ignored despite what she called the “marketing” by the trans community.
“A lot of trans people like to live in the make believe,” she said.
One issue is how all of this would get enforced.
It starts with how to determine who would be classified under SB 1165 as “male” and therefore unable to participate in women’s sports. Hernandez questioned whether that would be based on a birth certificate, genetic testing or “invasive medical exam.”
“We leave it up to the school to get that information,” Herrod said. And she pointed out that, in general, students need to have a physical examination by a private doctor before participating in sports.
“However that physician determines the sex, they would have to sign that affidavit and submit them,” Herrod said.
On the tail end, the legislation would allow any student who has suffered a “direct or indirect” harm because a school allowed a transgender girl to participate can sue the school for damages.
Direct harm would be in the form of a physical injury. And Barto said indirect harm might be the loss of an academic scholarship.
The question of the role of the legislature in issues involving transgender individuals also came up in the debate of SB 1138, the measure banning reassignment surgery on minors.
“I oppose this bill that essentially dictates medical care and inserts politics into the exam room and patient-family relationships,” said Dr. Atsyko Koyama, who specializes in pediatric emergency and adolescent medical care. And she said it takes away the ability of parents to make medical decisions for their children — but only for this kind of procedure.
“We don’t legislate nose jobs or breast augmentation or reduction or laser hair removal for minors,” Koyama said. “Physicians have lengthy discussions with parents and families to determine whether or not to proceed with permanent physical changes through surgical intervention.”
Both measures now need approval of the full House.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia
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