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On Wednesday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed a bill banning transgender athletes in middle and high schools and state colleges from competing in sports based on their gender identity.
Justice had previously vowed to sign the measure into law, arguing that restrictions on transgender female athletes were needed to ensure that cisgender women are able to earn honors and awards, or qualify for regional and national meets without worrying that they will lose out to athletes assigned male at birth, who, if they have not undergone hormone therapy, retain unfair physiological advantage.
Justice said he had considered the fact that the NCAA could retaliate and refuse to schedule championships or tournaments in the state, in protest of the bill, which critics see as targeting transgender athletes for the purpose of excluding them from sports teams.
Last month, hundreds of college athletes signed onto a letter urging the NCAA Board of Governors to follow its own guidelines for host cities and penalize states with laws targeting members of the LGBTQ community.
The NCAA then released a statement reiterating its position that host cities are supposed to “commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination” for athletes and fans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It concerns me that we may miss out on a really important sporting event or something like that that could come to West Virginia,” Justice said of a potential backlash from the NCAA, according to ESPN. “However, I think the benefits of it way outweigh the bad part of it.”
Similar bills have been introduced in nearly 30 states, with five different states passing their own bans either through the legislative process or via executive order.
However, just as in other states, proponents have been unable to cite specific in-state examples of where a transgender athlete has beaten a cisgender athlete in a competition, or demonstrate that transgender participation is a widespread problem.
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission has not received any complaints about transgender athletes competing on female-designated team, and SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan told ESPN he is unaware of openly transgender students participating in sports, either currently or in the past.
LGBTQ advocates and allies condemned Justice’s actions.
“We regret the governor has signed this cruel and unlawful bill after refusing to meet with young transgender West Virginians and their family members,” the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said in a statement. “ACLU-WV stands ready to intervene whenever and wherever this harmful law is enforced.”
In one laughably clumsy argument, Del. John Mandt Jr. (R-Huntington) argued that passing the bill could drive residents to move into the state — a comment ridiculed by Del. Cody Thompson (D-Elkins), who is openly gay.
“This isn’t going to bring people to West Virginia,” Thompson said. “This just sends a message across the country that we’re closed minded and we don’t accept you for who you are.”
Andrew Schneider, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, condemned Justice’s actions.
“It’s unfortunate that Gov. Jim Justice chose to sign House Bill 3293, ensuring the state of West Virginia will have to pay untold legal fees defending a clearly unconstitutional bill,” Schneider said in a statement. “Let me be clear: federal law protects our transgender children from discrimination, and this anti-transgender athlete ban will not stand.
“Transgender children are worthy of love and support. They deserve the chance to learn and grow in the classroom and on the field,” Schneider added. “Unfortunately, the very people this law harms were entirely shut out of the legislative process. Not a single transgender person was permitted to testify before the Legislature. Gov. Justice had the chance to join fellow Republican governors across the country who vetoed similar bills. But unlike those governors, Gov. Justice didn’t take time to meet with transgender youth to hear their stories.
“Nothing Gov. Justice does can change the fact that trans girls are girls, and they’re worth fighting for. We will never stop fighting for transgender Mountaineers.”
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