Bill banning trans athletes from competing on certain college sports teams goes to governor

A runner prepares for the start of a race at a track meet in Mansfield, Ohio on May 23. (Eric Marshall/News Journal/Usa Today Network Via Reuters, Eric Marshall/News Journal/Usa Today Network Via Reuters)

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A bill that would prohibit transgender athletes from competing on college teams that match their gender identity is heading to Gov. Greg Abbott for approval.

The Senate on Friday approved minor changes the House made to Senate Bill 15 before sending it to the governor, who has already said he would support such legislation.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, clarified that the legislation only applies to intercollegiate sports between schools, not intramural sports that are more casual and often co-ed games. The vote was 19-12.

Throughout the legislative session, LGBTQ advocates have railed against the bill.

“S.B. 15 is yet another invasive, impractical measure mandated by the Texas legislature to ‘fix’ a problem that does not exist,” said Melodía Gutiérrez, Texas director for the Human Rights Campaign in a press release earlier this month. “Every student deserves the same chances to engage in sportsmanship, self-discipline, and teamwork, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers. We should not discriminate against or ban any student from playing because they’re transgender.”

Senate Bill 15 requires athletes to join the college sports teams that align with their sex assigned at birth, regardless of their gender identity. It provides whistleblower protections for people who report violations at a university athletics program and allows people to file civil lawsuits against a college or university if they believe the institution has violated the law.

Under the bill, women would be allowed to join a men’s sports team if the school doesn’t have a women’s team for the same sport.

The bill is one of several that the Legislature is considering this session that could bring major changes to the lives of gay and transgender Texans. But it’s unclear what impact this bill would have immediately in Texas’ public universities. According to an Austin American-Statesman survey of Texas public universities, the vast majority of Texas schools responded that, to their knowledge, they had not had a transgender athlete compete for their university.

For more than a decade, the NCAA has allowed transgender women to participate in women’s sports if they had at least one year of testosterone suppression medication to treat gender dysphoria. But last year, the conference’s board of governors adopted a new policy that determined trans athletes’ qualifications for participation on a sport-by-sport basis. LGBTQ advocates decried the change as the conference bowing to political pressure from those who disapproved of the organization’s decision to allow Lia Thomas, a trans woman, to compete on the women’s swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania.

The new NCAA policy is still being phased in. As of now, trans athletes who want to participate in college sports must meet previous policy requirements set in 2010 and report their testosterone levels at the start of the season and six months into competition.

Legal experts say the Texas legislation could open up universities to Title IX lawsuits. In 2021, the Biden administration said that law, which was created more than 50 years ago to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to LGBTQ students. Last month, the administration proposed an amendment to Title IX that would prohibit blanket bans barring transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

The proposal faced mixed reviews from LGBTQ advocacy groups that say it would still allow for discrimination against trans students, while critics say it would threaten women’s sports.

“[T]he Department’s proposed regulation would attempt to coerce compliance with an uncertain, fluid, and completely subjective standard that is based on a highly politicized gender ideology,” 25 Republican governors, including Abbott, wrote in a joint comment. “Most troubling, the proposed regulation would turn the purpose of Title IX on its head and threaten the many achievements of women in athletics.”

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would amend Title IX to require student athletes to participate on sports teams based on their sex assigned at birth. The legislation is unlikely to pass in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats have narrow control.

Disclosure: Human Rights Campaign has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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