Last week, South Carolina lawmakers passed a bill to require student-athletes to compete in sports based solely on their assigned sex at birth, regardless of how they identify, sending the measure to Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk for his signature into law.
The State Senate voted 30-10 on May 4 to approve the bill, which had previously passed the House of Representatives earlier in the month. The House then voted to approve the Senate language, sending the bill to McMasters’ desk.
Under the bill, transgender athletes — specifically transgender females — would not be allowed to compete in women’s sports, which proponents of the bill say is unfair due to the physical advantages that individuals who have undergone male puberty enjoy. The bill would apply to athletes both at the secondary level in public schools and at the collegiate level.
The legislation does make one exception for cisgender female students, allowing them to compete in cases where their school doesn’t offer a female team for their sport, which has been allowed in more recent decades under Title IX, the federal law that prohibit sex-based discrimination in educational and athletic programs.
Supporters of the bill cited the success of Lia Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer who won the Division I 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in March, as an example of how transgender females can take opportunities away from cisgender female athletes.
Sen. Sandy Senn (R-Charleston) said that because Thomas had undergone male puberty, she gained greater lung capacity and more muscle that gave her an advantage over her fellow competitors. But she also insisted that she did not vote for the bill out of anti-transgender animus, reports the Post and Courier.
“My vote will not be out of hatred,” Senn said. “Transgender children have enough on their plate as it is. I don’t want to add to their troubles, but at the same time I don’t think it’s fair that the Penn swimmer could compete in that fashion.”
While Republicans largely supported the bill, Democrats voiced concerns that barring transgender children from competing based on their gender identity would trigger depression or feelings of isolation among transgender children, who studies have shown are already at higher risk of suicidal ideation.
“We are trying to come up with a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, but the real-world problem that does exist is the mental health problems we create for these children. We’re saying to these children you can’t participate here,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said in a statement. “We’re not going to let you belong here. It sends absolutely the wrong message.”
Hutto also noted that in the past six years, the South Carolina High School League, which governs middle and high school sports in the state, has received only five applications from transgender students requesting to play for a sports team that matches their gender identity. Only four of those applications were granted. He questioned the need for the bill, asking what “problem” it was supposed to be solving.
Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Hartsville) warned that the law would likely be challenged in court, which would likely result in a considerable financial burden being placed on taxpayers to finance legal costs. While 15 other states have passed similar bans on transgender participation, several of those laws are being challenged in court as unconstitutional.
McMaster has previously indicated he’s likely to sign the bill into law.
“I’ll take a look at whatever comes to my desk, but I’m pretty sure the people of our state — and that includes me — think the boys ought to play against boys, or young men against young men and same for young women,” the governor told reporters on May 4.
Ivy Hill, the executive director of Gender Benders and a director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said the bill’s passage brings feelings of sadness for trans youth and fear for LGBTQ people who will feel “rejected and erased” by being barred from competing as their full selves.
“We urge Senator McMaster to do what six governors before him — including three Republican governors — have done: Veto this unnecessary, dangerous bill. To do anything less is to waste taxpayer dollars defending a bill that has already been ruled unconstitutional by two federal judges, including one in West Virginia,” Hill said in a statement. “H.4608 is a frivolous attempt to address a manufactured problem, and it has no place in South Carolina.
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