CHEYENNE – A bill designed to ban female transgender students from competing in sports narrowly cleared the House Education Committee in a vote Thursday night.
Members voted 5-4 in favor of the “Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Sports” bill introduced by Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, after extensive testimony and working on the legislation. There were 10 amendments adopted and significant appropriations added to fund possible litigation and medical assessments for students.
Senate File 133 will head to the House floor and likely be re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee, but its future is unclear. Bills have to be reported out of committee by Friday, and another deadline to come out of the second chamber’s committee of the whole approaches Monday.
While Schuler said the bill was meant to address three concerns regarding fairness, equity and safety, opponents of the bill have argued it is anti-transgender legislation.
“This is a fairness issue. Regardless of whether a male has completely transitioned or used hormones to begin a transition, or just identifies as female, they are physically superior to females,” Schuler testified at the meeting. “They’re taller, they’re stronger, they have larger hearts and lungs, the muscular makeup and bone structure is different, and so fairness really goes out the window if they’re allowed to compete against females in the female lane.”
Schuler’s bill would prohibit public schools from allowing “a student of the male sex” to compete in an athletic activity or team “designated for students of the female sex” and direct them to designate whether sports are co-ed or separated by gender.
However, if SF 133 were signed into law and there was litigation that led to a stay, a commission would be created to examine students on a case-by-case basis.
The five-person commission would oversee approving eligibility for transgender students only in public schools, and without eligibility, they couldn’t participate in a “gender-designated interscholastic activity that does not correspond with the student’s biological sex.”
Transgender students who have transitioned or are undergoing transition must obtain approval before competing in any sports, but the process could be lengthy. All students would have to register and provide a birth certificate, and if there needs to be a meeting to decide if they are allowed to participate, it would be within 30 days after the commission received the notification.
The student and their parents or guardian could submit any information they wish to disclose before the meeting, including participation history, physical characteristics or medical treatments that support the student’s eligibility. They could bring in medical professionals or witnesses to testify in support of them.
Evidence could also be requested by the commission that is related to the determination and could cover the cost of a “diagnostic assessment if the commission makes a request for medical information.”
Although the eligibility decision would be made based on this information, it would also be related to safety risks or competitive advantages laid out in the bill.
“Bottom line is, I was told last year that this bill was a solution looking for a problem, because we had probably less than a handful of kids involved,” said Schuler. “This year, we have more than that. It’s almost two handfuls of kids. And I’m not saying that it’s going to proliferate – I don’t know if it will or not – but there is a problem out there.”
She said there were parents that are upset that their daughters are losing out on opportunities, and there are girls that are “getting taken off the podium,” some of whom are in her district.
“For 50 years, we’ve had Title IX. I was lucky to be able to enjoy the benefits of Title IX, and I really want to ensure that our biological girls in Wyoming can be assured that they have equity and they have fairness,” she concluded. “We need a level playing field where their physical, their mental, their social and emotional well being is paramount.”
There were those who supported Schuler’s reasoning, but they were in the minority of stakeholders who came forward during Thursday’s meeting.
Four residents told House Education Committee members they wanted the bill to pass, including mothers who said their daughters were impacted directly by female transgender athletes participating.
Bailie Dockter said her heart went out to both sides of the issue, but her daughter lost the opportunity to compete in a state track event because she lost to a transgender athlete in the qualifying round, and they were never made aware before she got onto the field. She believed that the student’s height, masculinity and lack of breasts were “clear advantages in this particular sport.”
Although she tried to appeal, the state track competition was days away, and she was told that “inclusion and safety for all were the reason for this policy, and that mental health concerns for transgender athletes are at the forefront of the debate.”
“To me, there is obviously no debate. We can see science through a political lens all we want, but to me, this is cut-and-dry,” she said. “And, honestly, I can’t believe that it’s being tolerated. Competitive sports and pushing yourself to take you to places that others can’t go gives you a gift that you can take with you forever.”
Lawmakers listened to supporters first, before switching those against the bill. Sixteen residents in total – made up of parents, students, advocates and religious leaders – testified Thursday night, and House Education Committee Chairman Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, had to cut off testimony in the end. They were already pushing 8 p.m. before working on an extensive number of amendments.
Opponents spoke about the bill from many perspectives, such as the amount of funding it would take to fight the legal challenges on constitutionality, or the damage it could do to cisgender female students who would be questioned about their womanhood.
The overarching argument remained that the bill would harm transgender students and place them under further fire by the state, though.
Santi Murillo is a graduate of the University of Wyoming, was a student-athlete all four years and started her transition in college. She said SF 133 reinforces the idea that the inclusion of trans women is harmful to cisgender women, and argued it couldn’t be further from the truth.
She said the legislation invited gender policing, subjected any woman to being labeled as too masculine or good at her sport to count as “a real woman” and didn’t take into account the biodiversity among the human race.
“This bill also undermines the trans experience. There’s talk that there are men who will lie and identify as a woman, just to gain some sort of athletic edge. I don’t think that’s what’s happening, and I think it truly undermines what transitioning is,” she said. “I can speak from my own experience, it’s not easy. I was 19 when I started. I’m still here at 25, and I’m still scared.”
Adults weren’t the only ones advocating for the bill to die. There were young students who came forward to testify and said they wanted their friends to participate or shared their own experiences alongside their parents.
“I am a transgender person. I think this bill would impact me and my friends in an extremely negative way,” said Ace Christoffersen, leader of Johnson Junior High’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance. “Sports are going to cause kids to get hurt, but this is not a safety issue.”
Christoffersen was joined by his Wyoming-native father, Michael Christoffersen, who said the bill codified inequality in the laws of the Equality State. He said he has taught his children alongside his wife that all people are created equally, and should be treated as such.
All of the attendees were thanked for the time they took to come out and the deep thought they put into their remarks, but the meeting was far from over following testimony.
Ten amendments, such as changing language; adding more than $1 million for litigation and testing; restricting the ban just to high schools; placing the commission under the authority of the Wyoming High School Activities Association; and giving them immunity were debated. There were also friendly amendments, as lawmakers tried to find ways to make the bill palatable and work for Wyoming.
Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, said she made the best effort to work with both sides of the aisle, but she said the need for all of the amendments proved the bill “was not ready for prime time.”
She also expressed her opposition to the bill as a concept and reflected on her studies up to her doctorate degree in psychology and law.
“I think what we have here is a product of ideas about how we view women and how we view queer folks, and I don’t think that it’s scientific. I don’t think that it is based on what is the most sound decision based on evidence, and it’s also unconstitutional,” she said. “We still have a ban in this bill. We are still going to get sued.”
She pointed out in the current process there has never been an appeal, whether a transgender student was not allowed to play or welcomed on the field.
Others who voted for the bill said that it was the right bill after hitting a wall going to school board members, principals and parents. Rep. Ryan Berger, R-Evanston, said he believed that guidance could come from the Legislature, and he saw it as lawmakers shaped the bill in committee.
“Now, as I coach, I can look toward guidance,” he said. “And I can point them in the right direction.”