COLUMBIA, Mo. ( Associated Press) — Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday took up a bill to ban transgender girls and women from competing in female only sports, an issue that has become flashpoint this election year.
The proposal, debated in a Senate education committee, would only apply to transgender girls and women. Transgender boys and men would still be allowed to compete against other males.
Students who feel like they’ve been hurt by a violation of the bill would be able to sue schools or sports organizations.
Republican proponents are pitching the bill, nicknamed the Save Women’s Sports Act, as a way to protect female athletes. Backers told committee members that men are naturally more physically capable, so it’s unfair for transgender girls and women to compete in female only sports.
Republican Sen. Rick Brattin said even with hormone blockers, transgender girls still have an advantage.
“When you’re talking transgender (fe)males playing in a female sport, that competitive edge still exists,” he said.
Democrats and other critics pushed back against the argument that the legislation would do anything to help women’s sports.
Lori Lindsey, who played on the US women’s soccer team when they won Olympic gold in 2012, told lawmakers that the top issues facing women and girls in sports include unequal pay, sexual assault, and lack of enforcement of Title IX protections against discrimination. She said transgender athletes participating hasn’t been an issue.
“This bill, like so many others across the country, is seeking to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist,” Lindsey said. “I’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for gender equity in sport for a long time, and I am sick and tired of transgender youth being unfairly targeted.”
At least 10 other GOP-led states have adopted bans on transgender athletes competing in school sports that match their gender identity, and Indiana lawmakers sent such a ban to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb on Tuesday.
The role of transgender athletes in sports is gaining traction as a GOP talking point across the country this election year. Political observers say it’s a classic strategy of finding a “wedge issue” that motivates a political base.
In the Missouri US Senate race, candidate and Republican US Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s personal Twitter account was suspended Monday over a tweet on the issue,
The mid-February tweet said: “Women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women,” and included her TV ad targeting transgender people in sports and particularly University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas,
Thomas competed on the men’s team at Penn before transitioning. Rules on transgender athletes returned to the forefront when Thomas started smashing records this year.
The Republican sponsor of the Missouri bill, Sen. Mike Moon, also is running for the southwestern Missouri congressional seat currently occupied by Republican Billy Long, who is running for the US Senate.
Moon’s bill still must be voted out of committee before it could go before the full Senate for consideration. The legislative session ends in May.