North Carolina GOP closes in on transgender athlete ban

Apr 20, 2023, 12:42 PM

Former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines speaks at a news conference about transgender inclusion in s...

Former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines speaks at a news conference about transgender inclusion in sports at the North Carolina Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. The North Carolina House passed legislation Wednesday that would prohibit transgender girls from joining female sports teams in middle school, high school and college. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

(AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A prohibition on transgender girls playing on female sports teams in North Carolina schools cleared a second legislative chamber this week when the state Senate approved a bill Thursday.

The passage means the Republican-dominated General Assembly appears poised to work out in the coming weeks a final compromise that would limit athlete participation and send it to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

The House approved a similar bill Wednesday. Legislators who back the competing measures expressed optimism that differences can be hammered out.

“I believe that the Senate sponsors and the House sponsors will be able to work through that,” House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters.

Cooper’s office didn’t respond to an email request for comment on the legislation. The GOP now holds veto-proof majorities in both the Senate and House after a former House Democrat switched parties earlier this month. The margins on this week’s floor votes suggest any Cooper veto could be overridden.

At least 20 other states have imposed similar limits on transgender athletes at the K-12 or collegiate level. Also Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill to bar federally supported schools and colleges from allowing any athlete whose biological sex assigned at birth was male from competing on girls’ or women’s sports teams.

Supporters of North Carolina’s legislation said during the Senate debate that the measure was designed to ensure cisgender girls have fair competitions and to protect their safety.

“We want to protect women’s sports,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican and bill sponsor during debate before the Senate’s 29-18 party-line vote. “We want our women and our girls to be able to compete against each other, and may the best girl or woman win.”

Senate Democrats who opposed to the measure agreed with parents of transgender children and their advocates who said in committee meetings this week that the bill would harm already vulnerable students.

“This bill does nothing to make our schools safer or help our students to succeed,” said Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham County Democrat. “Unfortunately, here we go again, waging culture wars with targets on the backs of children.”

Both bills state that “a student’s sex shall be recognized based solely on the student’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” It would apply to sports involving competing high schools and intramurals. The bills contain no information on how the policies would be enforced. Students could sue on allegations that they were harmed by a trans student violating the restrictions.

The House wants to apply the athlete eligibility restrictions to college and university teams as well. The measure also would place athlete eligibility limits on trans boys and cisgender girls, preventing them from playing on teams designated for male athletes if there was no comparable girls’ team, except for wrestling.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association, which runs athletic competitions for over 400 mostly public schools, already has a process by which transgender athletes can play sports based on their gender identities. The association confirmed Thursday that it had received 18 such gender-waiver requests since its policy was instituted before the 2019-20 school year. Sixteen requests have been approved, with 14 of them from cisgender girls requesting to play on boys’ teams, the association said.

Republican leaders ran the measures through committees this week, hearing from female athletes who say they’ve been harmed physically or psychologically by transgender women participating in their sports. That included Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer known for criticizing an NCAA decision allowing transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to compete against her in a women’s championship race.

Three House Democrats joined all Republicans present Wednesday in voting for the measure. The GOP supporters included Rep. Tricia Cotham, of Mecklenburg County, who was a Democrat until her recent party switch. She has been a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

Senate Democrats also warned Thursday that enacting the restrictions could lead to economic blowback from corporations similar to what happened in North Carolina following passage in 2016 of the “ bathroom bill ” involving transgender people. The law was partially repealed in 2017.

“North Carolina will never move past its reputation for anti-transgender discrimination if it continues these legislative attacks on the transgender community,” Cathryn Oakley with the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton, of Cabarrus County, said he didn’t expect a repeat of the financial fallout following the 2016 law if this legislation was enacted, calling the bill “common sense.” Newton also called on the state’s business community to “strengthen its back.”

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North Carolina GOP closes in on transgender athlete ban