From the April 7 edition of the Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer:
Diving headfirst into the anti-LGBTQ+ culture war, North Carolina Republicans have filed legislation intended to prevent transgender female athletes from playing on women’s high school sports teams.
Senate Bill 631, titled the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” is sponsored by all 30 Senate Republicans. The House version of the bill has several dozen sponsors.
The bill states that sports teams must be “expressly designated by the biological sex of the team participants.” If it passes, North Carolina would join a list of 20 states that ban transgender athletes from playing high school sports according to their gender identity.
At a press conference Wednesday, Republicans claimed women’s sports are “under attack,” insisting that the bill is “needed legislation.” But the so-called problem is small. So small that there are only about 15 transgender student athletes participating in high school sports in the entire state of North Carolina, HighSchoolOT reported this week.
Per WRAL, that’s a tiny fraction of the roughly 180,000 student athletes who participated statewide last year. Moreover, they don’t appear to be bothering anyone. No specific issues with competition or opportunity were cited by Republicans at the press conference.
“I can honestly tell you that, to date, there has been little to no adverse impact from these students participating in our program,” North Carolina High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker told HighSchoolOT.
That’s not stopping Republican lawmakers. Sen. Vickie Sawyer, one of the bill’s sponsors, acknowledged at the press conference that the number of transgender athletes currently participating in high school sports is low, but insisted the bill is still necessary as a kind of proactive measure.
“Just because it’s not happening right now at this moment doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future,” Sawyer said.
But something else is happening right now. Trans students are being targeted and stigmatized in North Carolina and all over the country, and this bill only exacerbates the damage being done.
Republicans were careful to emphasize that their bill is about protecting girls and women, not targeting the LGBTQ+ community. But they don’t have to be overt about it in order for it to be true, and the fact that they’re choosing to be more implicit in their bigotry doesn’t minimize the harm.
To say that women and girls need protecting in the first place implies that transgender people are a threat. They’re not. But they are students, too, and they deserve the same opportunities as their peers. They do not deserve to be singled out and treated like there is something wrong with the way they exist in the world.
Besides, the GOP’s assertions that this bill is somehow necessary to preserve a “level playing field” in women’s sports don’t exactly hold water. There is an incomplete body of evidence to support the claim that biological male athletes have an inherent physical advantage, especially since there are so few examples to point to. A comprehensive scientific review commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport found that there is currently no substantial evidence of biological advantages for trans women competing in women’s sports.
The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act is one of a whopping six anti-trans bills filed at the legislature this week. Also among them was a bill to prohibit gender-affirming treatment, such as hormone therapy, for minors. Just like the bathroom bill and “Don’t Say Gay,” this kind of legislation is merely bigotry disguised as concern for safety.
It seems North Carolina Republicans still have not learned their lesson from House Bill 2. Such bills don’t solve any actual problems, but they create plenty of them. They’re shameful and embarrassing. They potentially deprive our state of economic opportunities that are of real benefit to the people who live here already.
So, what do Republicans actually stand to gain by targeting the vulnerable? The answer is simple: political points. By framing the issue as a crusade to protect young female athletes, Republicans get to play the part of the hero. But picking on those who are smaller and less powerful hardly makes you a hero. It just makes you a bully.
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