Legislation aimed at separating Georgia school sports teams between children assigned male or female at birth advanced in the state Senate Wednesday amid criticism it discriminates against transgender persons.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, would bar “biological boys” from playing in school sports against “biological girls,” using language that transgender advocates say discriminates against LGBTQ persons.
It is one of three bills before the General Assembly that would require similar school-sports gender separations in Georgia that define gender as biological sex and allow lawsuits against schools that defy splitting up different-gendered student athletes.
Backers of Harbin’s bill and two others by state Reps. Philip Singleton, R-Sharpsburg, and Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, argue the proposed sports split-up is needed to protect fairness in girls’ sports and prevent male student athletes from taking female athletes’ scholarships.
“Unfortunately, boys have certain biological advantages when it comes to sports that make it impossible for competition to be fair if both genders are competing in the same sport,” Harbin said at a Senate Education and Youth Committee hearing on Wednesday.
“Forcing girls to play against biological males limits the ability of young women in the state of Georgia to win competitions, receive scholarships and to achieve the highest level of success in their sports.”
LGBTQ advocates have called that reasoning a smokescreen to trample on transgender rights and ostracize transgender students who already face large obstacles. They also oppose conflating gender with sex, citing research that disputes equating a person’s sexual identity with their sex organs.
Requiring transgender girls to join boys’ teams after years of playing on girls’ teams could expose them to traumatic taunting from parents and male students to the point that transgender athletes simply quit playing sports, said Jen Slipakoff, a Kennesaw mother whose transgender daughter plays school sports.
“If she doesn’t belong on the boys’ team and she doesn’t belong on the girls’ team, where exactly do you think she belongs?” Slipakoff said. “Can you tell me she belongs somewhere?”
“Or do you think she doesn’t belong anywhere? Because that is what passing this bill will tell her.”
Supporters of the bill have largely dismissed concerns the team restrictions could harm transgender girls, stressing that the measure’s aim is to bolster fair competition for female student athletes in Georgia.
“I’m super concerned that we would put our girls in Georgia at risk of losing scholarships by not handling this in a timely manner,” said Virginia Galloway, regional field director of the Duluth-based Faith and Freedom Coalition.
“Based on reality, I would say we need to pass this bill and protect sports for women.”
Harbin’s bill passed out of the committee by a 5-3 vote along party lines and now heads to the full Senate.
Voting in favor were Republican Sens. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas; Matt Brass, R-Newnan; Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming; Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta; and Sheila McNeill, R-Brunswick.
Voting against the bill were Democratic Sens. Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta; Lester Jackson, D-Savannah; and Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.