Metro Weekly

Kentucky Lawmakers Approve Transgender Sports Ban

Bill requires athletes seeking to play on female-designated sports teams to provide proof their assigned sex at birth was female.

Locker room – Photo: Jan Laguesen, via Unsplash.

Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature has passed a ban prohibiting transgender females from competing on female-designated sports teams, sending the measure to the desk of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Supporters, including the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Robby Mills (R-Henderson) have argued that the measure is necessary to ensure fairness in athletics by protecting cisgender girls from losing out on athletic opportunities they might be denied if forced to compete against transgender girls with physical or developmental advantages.

The bill applies to girls’ sports in grades six through 12, as well as to intercollegiate and intramural women’s teams at Kentucky colleges and universities.

Transgender females are barred from playing on sports teams designated for women, and must compete according to the gender listed on their original, unedited birth certificate.

If a student doesn’t have an original copy, they must submit an affidavit from a medical practitioner attesting to their assigned sex at birth to be eligible for competition.

The bill does not have any restrictions on who can join or participate in co-educational or male-designated sports teams.

The measure also has a provision prohibiting governments, licensing and accrediting organizations, and athletic associations from opening an investigation into, or taking adverse action against, schools or colleges that maintain separate women’s teams.

Critics of the bill question whether it is necessary, as even Mills previously admitted that he knows of no instance in Kentucky where a transgender athlete’s participation has disadvantaged a female athlete’s ability to compete, reports the Courier-Journal

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association already requires high school athletes to undergo gender confirmation surgery if they wish to compete on sports teams that don’t match their assigned sex at birth. 

Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Fairness Campaign in Kentucky, said that requirement would make most, if not all, transgender youth under the age of 18, ineligible to compete, as gender confirmation surgeries are rarely performed on minors, and only then after extensive therapy.

The NCAA, the governing body in collegiate athletics, recently adopted new guidelines regarding transgender athletes’ eligibility. Under that policy, each individual sport’s governing body will determine eligibility criteria for competing.

Additionally, transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels (as determined by each individual governing body) four weeks before the start of their competitive season, and provide subsequent documentation six months afterward. The policy is expected to be fully implemented by the start of the 2023-2024 academic year.

Opponents of the bill have argued that it violates Title IX’s prohibitions on sex-based discrimination and transgender students’ right to equal protection under the law. Some have even warned it could prompt backlash from the NCAA, which has reserved the right to potentially move or relocate championships from states that pass laws considered hostile to the LGBTQ community.

But Mills, the ban’s lead sponsor, dismissed the latter concern, arguing that the NCAA has never pulled an event from a state for insisting on separate sports teams for women and men. 

However, the law could be blocked if opponents choose to pursue legal action. Similar measures that have passed in other states, including Idaho, Florida, and West Virginia, have been blocked from taking effect by federal judges while lawsuits challenging the bans work their way through the courts.

Already, twelve states have enacted similar legislation, with Utah lawmakers recently overriding a gubernatorial veto of a ban. Lawmakers in Indiana also seem poised to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a similar ban sometime this week. 

LGBTQ advocates called on Beshear to veto the bill, although Kentucky Republicans have such a large supermajority in the legislature that they could easily override such a veto.

“During his Governorship, Beshear has used the term ‘Team Kentucky’ as a catchphrase for the state’s shared values of civility, unity, and collective distaste for bullies,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “But the phrase ‘Team Kentucky’ in a state where a child is denied an opportunity to play the sports they love because they are transgender would be an empty slogan.”

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