After emotional debate, ‘Fairness in Womens’ Sports Act’ passes House panel

Second committee to hear testimony from supporters and transgender athletes

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – After emotional debate from both supporters and transgender children and athletes, a second Kentucky legislative committee Tuesday advanced a bill aimed at banning transgender athletes from women’s sports at almost all levels in the state and what supporters say “preserving fairness” in girls’ sports.

HB 23, sponsored by Representative Ryan Dotson, would require public K-12 schools and higher education institutions to designate athletic activities by sex — boys, girls, or coed. The House Education Committee approved the proposal.

In a presentation to the House Education Committee, Dotson shared details of the bill and the motivation behind it. The legislation prevents biological men from competing in women’s sports, but still allows female athletes to play on teams dubbed for boys or coeds.

“My goal isn’t to stir controversy or pick a fight. We simply want fairness and competitiveness in youth sports,” said Dotson, of Clark County. “Many of us have daughters. Why should they have to compete against men, who would have an unfair physical advantage? This is about ensuring female athletes have an equal playing field. Science shows us very clearly that there are biological differences.”

Under the provisions of HB 23, a student’s biological sex is determined by the gender on their unedited birth certificate or sworn affidavit by a medical professional. The bill additionally includes legal ramifications for students who are deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffer harm. That includes legal action or fines. Dotson argues Title IX is about equality of women’s athletics, and all the progress made will be destroyed by continuing biological men participating in girls’ competitions.

Men and women are physiologically different, which often leads to a physical advantage for males. At puberty, males tend to have increased muscle mass and strength, including increased muscle mass, better lung and oxygen capacity, and higher muscle to fat ratios.

“Allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports is an attack on science and a betrayal of women’s sports,” Halli Gravley, a high school senior at Whitefield Academy in Louisville who testified to the committee. “Every legislator must ask themselves if they will fight for women’s athletes or stand by as every shred of progress is wiped out. This is the 50th anniversary of Title IX.”

Dotson’s bill comes as much of the nation focuses on the controversy surrounding transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas. Thomas, who swam on the university’s men’s team for three years. The swimmer joined the women’s team after beginning the transition process and has since become a serious contender for the NCAA championships. However, the issue has divided athletes at the university with some speaking for and against Thomas’s participation.

“There are those who believe this isn’t an issue in Kentucky, that this bill is a solution looking for a problem. This couldn’t be further from the truth and we’ve heard testimony from parents as well as young people struggling with their identity today,” Dotson added. “As a parent, I’m heartbroken and can only imagine what these families are going through. But, ultimately there is an undeniable physiological difference between boys and girls and it plays a major role in athletic competitiveness.”

Critics argued the bill wasn’t needed because the state’s high school oversight board has banned transgender athletes in women’s sports at the high school level. Critics also said the proposal only further stigmatzes transgender people, especially kids, during emotional times.

The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, condemned the Education Committee.

“There are many things that can be done to help promote fairness in women’s sports. Excluding trans girls from participating is not one of them,” said Casey Pick (she/her pronouns), Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “Yet again, we are seeing Kentucky lawmakers fight to further isolate trans youth – a group of young people that already face increased risk for bullying, depression, and suicide. This bill is not about protection; it’s about politics, and it harms trans youth across the state.”

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. When asked about new policies that would ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams and transgender boys from playing on boys’ sports teams, 74% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 57% felt sad, 43% felt stressed, and nearly 1 in 3 felt scared.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, a 2020 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project’s researchers, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.

However, research also shows that transgender and nonbinary youth who have access to gender-affirming spaces report lower rates of attempting suicide. A 2021 peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project’s researchers, published in Transgender Health, also found that transgender and nonbinary youth who reported gender identity acceptance from adults and peers had significantly lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year.

The Trevor Project’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) have never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

The legislation now heads to the House floor for a vote after passing the House Education committee.

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