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N.C. lawmakers discuss House bill on student athletes’ gender identity

HB-358, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” would require student athletes to compete based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.
Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 8:30 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) - For more than an hour, state lawmakers and members of the transgender community discussed a House bill on Wednesday that would require student-athletes in middle and high school, and the collegiate level to compete based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.

“This bill is controversial,” co-sponsor Rep. Mark Brody (R-Anson, Union) said. “And I expect that those who disagree with this bill will come forward and offer options or potential solutions ... and not the solution that says “I don’t want to do anything.”

Some GOP lawmakers say the bill levels the playing field between men and women, arguing that it’s not fair for biological females to compete against transgender women.

“I don’t like the idea of having to face a biological female and tell them “I’m sorry, you can’t do that, you can’t participate because a biological male decided that they were going to take their place,” Brody said.

Rep. Chris Humphrey (R-Lenoir, Pitt), another co-sponsor of the bill, said he thought of his 16-year-old daughter who plays three high school sports. Although he said there’s not many cases on this particular subject, it’s just a matter of time where this may become an issue.

North Carolina is one of 30 states to file similar legislation.

“As a parent of a high school athlete, it’s just not fair,” Humphrey said. “Make sure the playing field in high school athletics is even.”

Humphrey said the bill keeps a male from participating in female sports.

Brody invited four people to speak on Wednesday, including Save Women’s Sports’ Beth Stelzer.

“In powerlifting the male competitive advantage is 64%,” Stelzer said. “When half a pound can determine the winner, that type of advantage is huge. We risk losing scholarships, sponsorships, opportunities, even our jobs.”

When asked by another lawmaker if Brody asked a transgender person about this bill, Brody said no but answered “yes” when asked if he’s willing to speak with transgender youth and parents of the transgender community, who were in attendance at the hearing on Wednesday.

“Words cannot explain how painful and exhausting it is to wake up every morning, knowing that my rights to normal childhood experiences like school sports are being debated by elected officials that I’ve never met and that my existence and identity are not protected by law,” said Asher, 15, who is a transgender man on the track and field team as a thrower at a high school in western North Carolina. “We are not a threat, we are children and we just want to experience life normally like the rest of our classmates.”

Those who are against the bill say it singles out transgender youth athletes who deserve equal opportunity.

Justin Sykes, a transgender man who is a former athlete and is now a senior at Appalachian State University, said he was afraid to compete in high school and push himself to become better because he knew he’d have to confront his gender identity. Sykes ran cross country and was one of the top five on his team.

“What would have happened if I knew I had that support, if I knew that my coach and my team were going to be supportive in ways that people are being supportive now,” Sykes said. “There’s a risk of that being taken away again and that’s just really frustrating for me because there’s so much movement and there’s so much progression and there’s also not that many trans athletes, it’s just a few people trying to live their life and sports is how they find their joy.”

Sykes challenged state lawmakers to create more safe spaces and not destroy them.

“Team sports within high schools, within communities. is how people are able to find themselves through movement, and these bills are going to take that away from them.”

Wednesday’s hearing was a discussion and no vote took place.

The NCAA released a statement on Monday that says they support the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports.

In North Carolina, the NCHSAA allows transgender students to play and according to their policy, a gender identity request form must be submitted by the school when a student’s gender identity differs from the gender listed on their birth certificate.

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