Senate Bill 29, filed by Lubbock state Sen. Charles Perry, would prevent trans youth from participating in UIL sports; it mandates they can only play according to the gender on their birth certificate.
While the state’s Republicans insist the measure would protect female athletes, trans advocates say it amounts to bigotry.
Lawmakers aren’t grounding their legislation in science or evidence, said Wesley Story, the communications manager at Progress Texas. SB 29 is akin to state lawmakers’ pushes in 2015 and 2017 to pass legislation that would have required trans kids to use bathrooms on the basis of “biological sex.”
“Transgender children are really just trying to live their life, the same as any other kid,” Story said. “And they shouldn’t have to fight for their right to exist every single legislative session just because Texas Republicans have decided to make them the target for their hate.”
One 2018 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that more than half of transgender male teens reported having attempted suicide. Nearly 30% of transgender teenage girls said the same.
In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa called SB 29 “cruel” and “dangerous,” adding that all children deserve to play sports with their peers.
Speaking in front of the Senate State Affairs Committee last month, 17-year-old wrestler Charlie Apple asked lawmakers to vote against the bill. Many people turned their backs on Apple after he announced he’s trans, but sports gave him a sense of community when he was at his most vulnerable.
“This ban will hurt children like me,” Apple said. “Sports saved my life, and I beg of you to allow this to continue for other kids like myself.”
The Rev. Remington Johnson echoed Apple’s sentiment; a trans woman and an athlete, she said sports gave her "a path back when [she] had a self-harm event.”
“Sometimes we get to dominate, sometimes we get dominated,” she said of playing sports. “But it is the doing with that lets us touch that sacred liminal space and really feel like we belong and that all of us are good and sacred.”
“[Trans kids] shouldn’t be having to head to the state Capitol every single legislative session just to fight for the right to exist.” – Wesley Story, Progress Texas
Yet some argue that sports should stay segregated. Jason Vaughn, policy director for the Texas Young Republicans, said post-pubescent trans female teens have more physiological advantages, such as stronger hearts and legs, when compared with their cisgender female counterparts.
Vaughn said while there are many great trans athletes, the number of scholarships for female athletes is relatively small. He hopes there will be more opportunity for co-ed sports in the future, but for now, lawmakers have to protect biological women’s sports opportunities; that’s why there are gender-segregated sports in the first place, he said.
Still, Vaughn said it’s a complicated issue, and the last thing he wants to do is to make “someone feel worth less.”
While there are two bills that would prevent trans teens under 18 from receiving gender-affirming surgery, Vaughn said he supports one: House Bill 1399. Authored by Fort Worth state Rep. Matt Krause, it would deter doctors from performing transition care by preventing professional liability insurance from covering it.
Another bill would target medical professionals, too. Filed by Conroe state Rep. Steve Toth, HB 68 would define transition-related health care as “child abuse” and introduce penalties.
Trans kids are still figuring out their lives, and they should know that bills such as HB 1399 are just trying to protect them until they’re old enough to make that type of permanent choice, Vaughn said.
But Story said such legislation puts trans Texans at risk, and each time they’re up for consideration in the state Capitol, stigmas surrounding trans people continue to grow.
Instead of trying to pass discriminatory legislation, Story said lawmakers should redirect their focus. After all, the nation is still experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and nearly 200 Texans lost their lives to Winter Storm Uri.
Plus, many important people in Story's life are transgender and would be harmed by legislation that’s “rooted in hate and … discrimination.”
“People should stand up to protect [trans kids] because the fact of the matter is these are children that we’re talking about,” he said. “They shouldn’t be having to head to the state Capitol every single legislative session just to fight for the right to exist.”