Metro Weekly

South Carolina lawmakers reject third attempt to ban trans athletes from competition

Lawmakers objected to the way the bill was refiled and given priority over other measures, despite failing in committee the first time

trans, transgender, student athlete, track, running
Photo: Nicolas Hoizey / Unsplash

For the third time this year, a South Carolina House committee voted down an attempt to ban transgender girls and women from participating on middle and high school sports teams designated for females.

The South Carolina House Judiciary Committee voted down the bill on an 11-13 vote, with even some Republicans balking at either the bill itself or the process by which it was revived.

The Judiciary Committee defeated a nearly-identical bill in March on a voice vote, and lawmakers later defeated a provision in the state budget to bar transgender athletes from competing in sports that align with their gender identity.

But House Republicans filed a second bill aiming to institute a transgender ban and began pushing it through the legislative process — a move that angered even supporters of the bill, who questioned why this bill, of all the measures that had been defeated during this legislative session, was given special treatment.

“There are so many other bills that are waiting on us in Judiciary to hear, and we are here talking about this again,” Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg) said during a hearing on Tuesday, reports The State.

The bill is one of nearly 66 introduced in 30 different state legislatures targeting transgender athletes, with proponents claiming such measures are necessary to protect the integrity of sports and give cisgender females an equal opportunity to excel in athletics. 

But critics say the bill is a solution in search of a problem, discriminatory, and could harm transgender youth by ostracizing them and potentially driving them to self-harming behaviors or suicide.

In addition to LGBTQ advocates, members of the business community, medical professionals, teachers, and South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman have all come out against a ban on transgender athletes.

Rep. Micah Caskey (R-Lexington) compared the bill to Republican-backed efforts in the 2010s to pass legislation banning Sharia law in the state, despite there being no evidence of attempts to institute Islamic laws or any prescribed punishments for breaking them.

“This is not urgent,” Caskey said during committee debate. “This is Sharia law 2.0.”

He also noted that there is already a process in place to determine competitors’ eligibility for participation in sports. Currently the South Carolina High School League allows transgender students to apply to compete in sports based on their gender identity. Since the process was instituted in 2016, only four students have applied, and only two trans females have been granted waivers — underscoring the fact that transgender participation in sports is not as widespread a problem as bill proponents have claimed it is.

See also: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoes bill to bar transgender athletes from sports

Caskey also said that while he supports the aims of the bill, he took issue with the way it was prioritized and given a second chance when other equally or more important bills that were killed were not granted the same leeway.

Some lawmakers attempted to introduce amendments that would create a way for transgender athletes to compete. One would have required transgender girls to complete 24 months of hormone therapy to suppress their testosterone levels before being allowed to participate, while another would have shortened that time period to 12 months, aligning with the NCAA’s current policy governing participation in collegiate sports.

But those amendments were rejected, with members of both parties objecting to the idea of requiring middle and high school-age students to undergo hormone therapy. Additionally, given that some Republicans have pushed a bill to bar transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming health care treatments, like puberty blockers — let alone hormone therapy — the amendments were non-starters.

A third amendment would have required South Carolina to adhere to Olympic standards, requiring girls suspected of being transgender to submit to a blood test showing a testosterone level of less than 10 nanomoles per liter. That was also defeated, thus helping doom the bill’s final fate.

See also: North Dakota vetoes bill banning transgender athletes from competing in their gender identity

Had it passed, the bill likely would have sparked a backlash from the business community and the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate sports, which could threaten to yank events from states with anti-LGBTQ laws. The NCAA recently reminded cities hoping to host sporting events and tournaments that part of the criteria for being chosen as a host city depends on their ability to “commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination” for athletes and fans alike.

The NCAA previously banned South Carolina schools from hosting championship events from 2001 to 2015 because of the state’s policy of flying the Confederate flag on State House grounds. It later reversed the decision after lawmakers voted to remove the flag from the Capitol complex following the massacre of nine Black churchgoers who were killed by a white supremacist in Charleston.

That prompted an indignant response from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who said the NCAA should “mind its own business,” adding: “If you want to pass laws, you can run for office.”

LGBTQ advocates praised the bill’s defeat.

“We are relieved and grateful that, once again, lawmakers have rejected their colleagues’ blatant attempts to discriminate against transgender student-athletes. Today’s vote sends the message that H.4153 — just like its predecessor, H.3477 — and any other bill that discriminates against transgender people has no place in South Carolina,” the pro-LGBTQ coalition SC United for Justice & Equality said in a statement.

“For months, transgender young people and the many South Carolinians who love them have been making their voices heard to oppose these discriminatory bills, and we won’t stop until we have ensured a South Carolina where trans students are included, affirmed, and afforded the same opportunities as any other student. Every South Carolinian deserves an equal opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, and we will remain vigilant until that day comes.”

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