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North Carolina's Anti-Trans Athletes Bill Is Debated At House Hearing

A 12-year-old transgender swimmer is seen at a pool in Utah.
Rick Bowmer
A proposed ban on transgender athletes playing female school sports in Utah would affect transgender girls like this 12-year-old swimmer seen at a pool in Utah on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. She and her family spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to avoid outing her publicly. She cried when she heard about the proposal that would ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams in public high schools, which would separate her from her friends.

A bill that would prevent transgender girls from participating in school sports that correspond with their identity was debated in a North Carolina House Committee on Wednesday. It's part of a national GOP push.

Republican authors of the "Save Women's Sports Act" say the bill is meant to protect the integrity of competition in middle and high school sports.

The bill ― which is unlikely to become law ― would prevent transgender girls from playing middle, high school and college sports with the team that aligns with their gender identity, and they would instead have to play on boys teams if they were to participate.

Similar bills have become law in at least four states since last year, most recently in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Any North Carolina bill would have to clear both legislative chambers before heading to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

Rep. Mark Brody (R-55), the bill's co-sponsor and author, said it's an issue the people of North Carolina are requiring legislators to address.

"Can biological men who now claim to be female participate in female-specific sports in North Carolina?" Brody asked.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has a policy that allows transgender students to play on the team that corresponds with their gender identity. This bill, if passed, would override that policy.

In response to the bill sponsors' arguments in favor of the bill, Rep. Rachel Hunt (D-103) quoted statistics from a national survey of LGBTQ youth from a non-profit that provides crisis and suicide prevention services, the Trevor Project.

"40% of LGBTQ respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months, with more than half of transgender and non-binary youth seriously considering suicide," Hunt said. "It seems like we are putting hypothetical fears about fairness above the real lives and safety of kids in North Carolina."

Hunt said the bill has consequences that go beyond sports.

"Mental health providers are already hearing from patients who are upset by this bill," Hunt said.

Hunt asked Brody if he had spoken to any transgender people or their medical providers before drafting the bill. Brody said he had not, but would be open to it, and had spoken to an LGBTQ rights organization before writing.

Transgender rights advocates showed up in force to argue against the bill during a period of public comment at the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Those who spoke up, including students who are trans and play sports, said the bill is not needed.

"House Bill 358 is not necessary. And like all kids who like to be active, I have the right to play. I'm better than some, and not as talented as many," said Julie Katz, a 16-year-old high school sophomore who plays volleyball. "This bill says I can't even sit on the bench."

Parents also spoke out against the bill, one Raleigh woman said her daughter poses no threat to other students.

"My daughter is a girl. Her friends, her classmates her teammates — they see her as a girl," said Jennifer Olson. "This bill is talking about 11, 12, 13, 14-year-olds. It's not about women; it's about girls."

Olson added that her daughter says being transgender is not easy because not everyone understands.

"It's talking about my daughter who enjoys sports and if she couldn't play on her sports school teams this would impact her confidence her self-esteem," Olson said. "And she just wouldn't feel welcomed."

Others spoke in favor of the bill, including a state representative from Idaho and Beth Stelzer, a woman from Minnesota, who are leading the charge on similar legislation in dozens of states.

Said Stelzer: "This bill is not a ban, it’s not rooted in hate or transphobia. It is simply to protect fairness for biological females.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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