Opinion: Transgender Athletes Face New Bill

Malvika Pradhan, Staff Writer

On April 14, 2021, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 29 (SB29). If this bill were to become law, it would prohibit transgender students from participating in school sports teams that match their gender identity. For example, a trans girl, a person whose assigned gender is male but whose gender identity is female, would be required to participate on the boys sports teams in their school. Proponents of the bill argue that it promotes equality and fair competition in sports, and that it wouldn’t be equitable to have biological females competing against biological males. 

Those who oppose the bill say that it purposely discriminates against trans youth and excludes them from athletics. SB29 was a very partisan bill, with 16 Republican senators voting in favor of it, and zero Democrats. Currently, Gov. Greg Abbott has not signed the bill into law. If he does, the law would take effect in the 2021-22 school year.  This is one of many similar bills sweeping the country. 30 other states have passed or introduced similar bills, including Tennessee, Montana and Mississippi.

SB29 is discriminatory and excludes trans students from participating in sports. It doesn’t let them express their identity freely. Many trans students would not want to participate in school sports if they were forced to play on a team of the opposite gender, like trans student Landon Richie. Richie said, “Trans kids belong in Texas and deserve the same rights, access to health care, access to sports, access to public facilities, as any other Texan.” This bill is also unnecessary as this issue is not widespread across Texas schools. Jamey Harrison, deputy director of the University Interscholastic League (UIL) asserts that the bill was already “not an issue in our state” under the current UIL rules.

One of the supporters of the bill, State Senator Charles Perry, a Republican from Lubbock, acknowledged that he doesn’t know any transgeder athletes in Texas.

Many professional sports teams and organizations do not have such rules surrounding trans athletes. In the Olympics, for example, if a trans female wants to compete on the female team, they need to have identified as a female for the past four years and their testosterone levels need to have been below 10 nanomoles for at least one year before the competition and during the entirety of the competition period. 

One of the hormones that help men gain more muscle mass is testosterone, hence the Olympics’ rules about the limits of testosterone levels in trans female athletes. If trans women athletes were taking hormone blockers to pause the testosterone production in their bodies, this growth of muscle mass would be reduced significantly, making the playing field more level. Trans males who want to compete in the Olympics have no restrictions. This is a much more reasonable way to go about this because the competition is still fair while including trans athletes. School sports teams could implement these guidelines for trans athletes. 

Even the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has spoken out against these bills and argued that they are discriminatory and harmful towards trans students. “As experts, pediatricians are uniquely positioned to advocate for and support these young people,” AAP CEO and Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte said. “Politics has no place here. These are individual conversations between clinicians, patients and families about what’s best. The AAP applauds the hard work of our chapters focused on protecting transgender youth at the state level.” The AAP has also said if trans females are taking hormone treatments, they shouldn’t have the levels of testosterone that are normal for males, and therefore, the competition should still be fair.

The Associated Press, who reached out to state lawmakers who sponsored such bills and conservative groups that supported the bill, found that not many of them could cite instances of this issue. “The Associated Press… found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports.” While such instances are not widespread, the rise of proposed bills such as SB29 highlights the urgent need for the federal government to enact legislation that invariably protects the rights of trans youth as well as other minority groups. The lack of overarching, federal legislation protecting the rights of trans youth is what allows the state by state bills that threaten trans people. 

There has been one notable instance in Texas where this came up. Mack Beggs is a trans wrestler, who was female at birth but identifies as male. University Interscholastic League rules forced him to wrestle on the female wrestling team at his high school in Euless, Texas. In 2017, a parent of another athlete tried to file a lawsuit against him to prevent him from competing at all. They argued that because he was taking low-dose testosterone injections as a part of his transition, the competition was unfair. However, Beggs was still allowed to compete and won the Texas state championship two years in a row. Supporters of this bill say that it encourages fair competition, but a trans male competing on a female sports team may have an unfair advantage over his competitors if he is on testosterone.

The best way to solve this issue in schools is to require that trans athletes get their testosterone levels tested and let them play on the sports team that matches their gender identity. With the guidance of health professionals, schools can set an amount of testosterone that athletes need to have in order to play. Since hormone blockers temporarily stop the production of hormones, they are reversible, so students would not need to make life-changing decisions to play a sport. 

Along with SB29, more bills targeting transgender youth were introduced on April 14, including bills that would ban the prescription of hormones and puberty blockers to youth under 18 and would ban gender reassignment surgery on minors. These new anti-trans bills are a way for the government to place more restrictions on the LGBTQ community. Allowing students to play on the team that matches their identity allows them to have a more positive school experience and gives them room to express themselves however they choose.