A measure prohibiting transgender public school athletes from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity cleared a big hurdle in the Texas house this week. A House committee passed House Bill 25 on Wednesday that would require the University Interscholastic League of Texas to only allow individuals to play on sports teams that align with their sex assigned at birth.
The measure has been made a priority in every special session this year by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Supporters of the legislation say it’s about ensuring fairness, specifically in girls’ school sports, because they argue trans girls present an unfair advantage. Opponents of the measure say there are no instances of trans girls playing on middle-school and high-school sports in Texas presenting an unfair advantage. What’s more, parents of trans children say the bill would harm their children if it becomes law.
Texas Standard spoke with one of its own reporters, Jill Ament, who is covering the bill’s progress. Listen to the interview with Ament above or read the transcript below to learn more about how the bill has been more successful than similar bills in previous sessions, and how some of the momentum could be related to the governor and lieutenant governor’s reelection campaigns.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: What is this measure that’s circulating through the House, and how similar is it to the Senate measure?
Jill Ament: This House bill is pretty similar to Senate Bill 3. Both of these measures would prohibit transgender public school athletes, both boys and girls, from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Supporters of the measure say it’s about ensuring fairness, specifically in girls’ school sports. But opponents of the measure say that there are no instances in the state of trans girls playing on middle-school and high-school sports in Texas who are presenting an unfair advantage. And I will note that the UIL [University Interscholastic League] does already have a policy in place that requires athletes to play on sports teams that align with their gender on their birth certificates. But supporters of the measure say that also includes birth certificates that have been changed after a student transitions. So [Texas lawmakers in favor of this bill] want the gender on the birth certificates to be the closest of when the student was born.
The Senate’s version of the bill has had issues getting through the House in the past. Is there any reason to think that this House version is on better footing and could could be passed in the House?
This House version does seem to be on better footing at this point, mainly because earlier this week, on Wednesday, it cleared a House committee. and the House Speaker, Republican Dade Phelan, has said there are enough votes in the full House to clear the House floor. The Senate measure has easily cleared the upper chamber, but it’s been getting caught in the House. So this last special session, the measure was killed in the House Public Education Committee by that committee’s chair, Democrat Harold Dutton, from Houston. But this current House bill was taken up by a House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, and I believe that move was probably made to avoid the House Public Ed Committee this time.
Why are Republican lawmakers, specifically Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, pushing this measure, especially right now during a special session that’s supposed to be focused on redistricting?
Republicans that support this legislation say it’s about respecting Title IX, a federal law that prohibits people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities. So they think having trans girls play on public-school girls’ teams creates a disadvantage. But what I will also say is, as we both know, the governor and lieutenant governor are up for reelection in a midterm next year, and I’ve spoken with political scientists who say these kind of measures poll very well among hard-line conservatives, which is a voting bloc that usually comes out during these midterms.
What about LGBTQ groups, trans students, parents? I know that there have been protests at the Texas Capitol. What has been the response to after this measure passed through the House committee?
If you talk to any parent of a trans child or trans children, they will say it’s been a very long, long year. I mean, they have been, since the very beginning of this session, fighting legislation, not just this bill in particular, but other measures introduced by Republican lawmakers that they say target their children negatively. The Texas LGBTQ rights group, Equality Texas, says this legislative cycle has been particularly tasking for the trans community in Texas. I have reported on this story recently, and I spoke with a mom and her trans daughter, Libby Gonzalez. Libby’s 11, and she’s told me this bill in particular has caused her to have trouble sleeping. And it just makes her sad and angry because she feels like if it becomes law, she won’t be able to play sports with her friends.
What’s next for the legislation?
Now that it’s passed committee, it will go to the full House floor, although I have not seen it on the calendars yet. But like I mentioned, Speaker Phelan says, you know, he has said it has the votes to pass. While I imagine there will be a fight put up by House Democrats, I’m not sure how much of a fight they can actually put up. I know in the the Wednesday committee hearing, El Paso Democrat Joe Moody did introduce an amendment to the measure, which would require further research into transgender athletes, and in middle- and high-school sports participation. But it’s not clear if he’ll bring that amendment back up during the floor debate.