NC lawmakers – largely Republicans – are approaching agreement on how they intend to restrict transgender athletes in women’s sports.
The latest version of their bill would ban transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports in middle and high school, as well as in colleges and universities. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives previously passed different versions of the bill, but the major differences have now been settled. On June 13, a Senate committee passed that version of House Bill 574, dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”
“There have been discussions between the House sponsors and the Senate sponsors to negotiate those provisions,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland County). “I suspect the changes that the Senate is making are things that we’ll concur with when it comes back.”
Unlike a similar bill that only applied to middle and high schools, HB 574 applies to higher education, including all public and private colleges and universities in North Carolina. The latest amendment removed proposed restrictions on male sports teams, with state Sen. Kevin Corbin citing the banning of female kickers on football teams as an example of an unintended consequence had that provision remained. He indicated that the House had agreed to the changes.
The amendment also removed proposed restrictions on collegiate intramural sports, with Corbin citing how they were recreational and did not deal with scholarships.
“The impetus of my journey with (the bill) was to protect women, and I do enjoy women’s sports, and that’s what all this is about,” state Sen. Vickie Sawyer, a Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said at the committee meeting. In arguing for the bill, Sawyer pointed to 17 examples of “how women didn’t win in their respective sports” including Lia Thomas, a transgender woman who won the NCAA 500-yard freestyle swimming championship in 2022.
Riley Gaines, who tied for fifth place in the 2022 NCAA 200-yard freestyle swimming championship with Thomas, submitted a statement to the committee that called for the passage of HB 574, asserting that “the NCAA and its member colleges intentionally discriminated on the basis of sex” by “allowing Thomas to displace female athletes.” The bill prohibits “students of the male sex” from playing on “athletic teams designated for females, women, or girls” in all interscholastic and intramural athletic teams in public middle and high schools, and would only apply to certain private middle and high schools if the school is a member of an interscholastic athletic organization, or playing against a team required to follow the provisions of the bill.
“What we’re talking about, in many cases, is a middle school student who is likely on puberty blockers … living as a girl, using female names and pronouns, and just wants to play on the middle school team,” Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus said at the committee meeting, pointing out that there have only been two cases of a transgender athlete being allowed to play on a girls’ team. “This is targeting her in a way that is mean-spirited and unfair, and will do damage to her in a way that makes me very sad.” The North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s current policy allows students to play on sports teams that are in line with their gender identity.
Colleges included in bill
As for “institutions of higher education,” which include all public universities, private colleges or universities and community colleges, the bill applies to all athletic teams that are part of an “intercollegiate athletic program.” This includes teams competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
Sylvia Hatchell, former head coach of the UNC women’s basketball team, spoke in support of the bill at the committee meeting. She argued that if transgender athletes are allowed to play in women’s sports, they would “take scholarships away from female athletes.”
“If you want to win, if another team has a transgender and that person is dominating, what are you going to do? You want to keep your job, you’re going to go recruit a transgender,” Hatchell said.
“I’m not against transgenders. There’s a place for them, but it’s a separate category.” Republican lawmakers previously proposed a bill in 2021 to ban transgender athletes from playing on women’s sports teams, but it failed due to a lack of examples of it being a problem in the state. Since then, beyond the fact that Republicans now have a supermajority in the General Assembly, a story reported by Fox News in 2022 generated national attention after the Cherokee County school board forfeited girls’ volleyball games against Highlands High School after a transgender athlete from the school reportedly injured a player, Payton McNabb, with a spike.
While conservatives have lauded the bill as being protective of girls and women in sports, others have framed the bill as an attack on transgender kids and the broader LGBTQ+ community. “Hate legislation like this does nothing to protect us. In fact, the mere existence of these proposed bills causes harm,” the Rev. Vance Haywood, pastor of St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church, said at a press conference.
Kyle Love, a transgender man from Prospect Hill, spoke at the committee meeting against HB 574. He argued that the bill “only creates a scenario where trans children feel unsafe and not able to enjoy and succeed in school. “You’re faced with a choice: a choice of whether to show love to your neighbors, the same love I have felt from mine, or create a government that stops children, children, from living fulfilling lives just for being and living as who they are,” he said.
Despite the opposition, HB 574 is likely to pass both the Senate and the House, and the Republican supermajority is likely to be able to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. The bill is part of a nationwide debate over transgender participation in sports.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, 22 states currently ban transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. In April, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in women’s athletic programs nationwide.
The bill has virtually no chance of passing a Democratic-controlled Senate and being signed by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.