This story was originally published on N.C. Policy Watch.
A new bill introduced this week in the N.C. House would ban transgender women from competing on women’s athletic teams at public schools and universities, superseding policies that have existed in major sports organizations for at least a decade.
House Bill 358 (“Save Women’s Sports Act”), filed Monday, would compel all public schools and universities in North Carolina to designate their teams as male, female, or co-ed.
The measure would also prohibit any “governmental entity, licensing or accrediting organization, or athletic association or organization” from opening an investigation or taking adverse action against a school for maintaining separate teams.
Charter and private schools would also be required to conform with these requirements if the institutions’ sports teams compete within a state-level association, including the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
HB 358 also states that “sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
James Michael Nichols, communications director at Equality NC, said the bill is part of a new wave of anti-transgender legislation happening across the country.
In a statement Tuesday, Equality NC called the bill “rooted in invasive and inappropriate questions about the sex assigned to young people at birth and outdated generalizations about male and female bodies.”
“Now that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have achieved a baseline level of cultural acceptance in America, anti-LGBTQ politicians have moved on to a more vulnerable target: our transgender brothers, sisters, and siblings,” Nichols said. “Trans people have always been at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQ rights and acceptance and borne the brunt of violence, discrimination, and targeted attacks against our community. Now, politicians want to limit the ability of young, trans folks to experience camaraderie and teamwork at a crucial developmental stage of life. It’s up to all LGBTQ people to show up for trans youth right now when they need us most.”
The bill language claims that transgender women have inherent advantages in sports, and that its purpose is to ensure “women are not forced to compete against men playing on women’s sports teams.” The bill lays out causes of action and remedies for women who believe they have been deprived of opportunities by anyone violating the act and institutions that believe they are subjected to “retaliation or adverse action” as a result of reporting violations.
“In North Carolina, girls deserve to again compete on a level playing field,” said Rep. Mark Brody (R-Union), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, in a statement Tuesday. “Instances of males competing in women’s sports exemplify the immediate need to act before fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities are destroyed. The Save Women’s Sports Act is the solution which ensures that all female athletes will be assured a level playing field to compete and win.”
Rebby Kern, education policy director for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, denounced the bill in a statement Tuesday, referencing the HB2 fight of five years ago and negative publicity and international boycotts it sparked against the state.
“Five years after attacking transgender North Carolinians through the devastating impact of House Bill 2, NC House Republicans are once again targeting our transgender community,” Kern said. “It’s beyond disheartening to see that the North Carolina General Assembly has not learned the lessons of five years ago.”
“Young people all across this state, regardless of gender identity, deserve the opportunity to experience the benefits of being part of a sporting community — especially when trans youth already face disproportionate barriers to success in learning environments,” Kern said. “Equality NC believes that we can find a way to protect transgender youth and ensure that all youth, regardless of gender identity, have the opportunity to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, self-discipline, and all the other lessons that sports provide. We call on the NCGA to do their part in protecting all youth by passing clear nondiscrimination protections for youth in sport and beyond.”
Science, policy and politics
There is ongoing debate over regulating transgender participation in competitive sports. But scientific consensus has led major sports organizations like the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission to draw up their own guidelines allowing transgender athletes to compete alongside the gender with which they identify.
The International Olympic Committee has allowed transgender athletes to do so at the highest level of international competition since 2003. The NCAA has had a policy on inclusion of transgender athletes since 2011. In 2019, World Athletics — the international body governing sports competitions like track and field and cross country running — revised its policy to become even more inclusive.
None of those organizations use the standard set forth in the House Bill 358 (“reproductive biology and genetics at birth”), which has been widely abandoned since U.S. and international courts began ruling against its use in the late 1970s.
Policies related to transgender athletic participation continue to evolve, but most now take into consideration transition history, testosterone levels and input from scientists and physicians.
If passed, House Bill 358 would preempt multiple organizations’ existing regulations that allow transgender students to participate in sports in a way that is consistent with their gender identities, most notably those for high school and college athletes.
The NC High School Athletic Association website lays out its reasoning in a statement on its policy:
The NCAA policy on inclusion of transgender athletes explicitly states that determining gender is more complicated than what appears on a birth certificate.
“In order to design effective policies, educators must understand that gender is a core part of everyone’s identity and that gender is more complex than our society generally acknowledges,” the NCAA wrote in its policy document a decade ago. “Learning about the experience of transgender people can help us to see more clearly how gender affects all of our lives, and to put that knowledge into practice in order to better serve all students. Addressing the needs of transgender students is an important emerging equal opportunity issue that must be taken seriously by school leaders.”
“Because a more complex understanding of gender may be new and challenging for some people, there is a danger that misinformation and stereotypes rather than accurate and up-to-date information will guide policy decisions,” the NCAA wrote. “Campus and athletics administrators who are charged with policy development need guidance to avoid including misconceptions and misinformation in policies that, ultimately, create more problems than they solve.”
Allison Scott, director of Impact & Innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality, said it is clear North Carolina is already beyond such legislation.
“This anti-transgender bill is an outlier in North Carolina, and it doesn’t reflect where we are as a state,” said Scott, who is transgender. “We have come so far since the days of HB2, and we’re better off for it: LGBTQ people feel safer, business leaders are becoming more comfortable investing here, and our communities are more inclusive and respectful. It pains me to see some lawmakers, egged on by extreme anti-transgender activists running a coordinated national attack on trans youth, trying to drag us back into an era of discrimination.”
“The truth is that transgender youth deserve the same access as any other student to the many benefits of participating in school sports, including the physical, social, and emotional impacts,” Scott said. “To categorically deny transgender students the freedom to play alongside their peers is at odds with lawmakers’ duties to care for and protect our youth. To all of the transgender youth feeling attacked by this bill and others like it nationwide, I want to be sure you understand that you are loved, you are seen, and we are fighting with you.”