The Texas legislature has approved a bill that would bar transgender athletes from playing on college sports teams that align with their gender identity.
The measure, SB15, would require transgender athletes in any intercollegiate athletic competition that is sponsored or authorized by a public college or university to compete in the team that corresponds with the gender they were assigned at birth. If signed into law, the bill would grant whistleblower protection for those who report college programs that violate the law and would allow people to file civil lawsuits against a college if they believe its program has violated the law, Texas Tribune reported.
Legislators said that the bill does not apply to intramural sports, the Texas Tribune reported. It would allow women to participate in a men’s team for a sport with no women’s team, according to the outlet.
The state Senate approved the final version of the bill on Friday in a vote of 19-12 after minor amendments from the state House.
The NCAA has allowed transgender athletes to compete in college sports for over a decade, but switched to a sport-by-sport approach in 2022. Debates about transgender athletes have been ongoing, especially amid the slew of anti-transgender legislation across the country.
Opponents of letting trans athletes compete argue that transgender women have an unfair advantage over cisgender women due to biological differences.
But LGBTQ+ advocates, organizations and experts have debunked such claims, pointing out that the athletic ability of transgender athletes varies just as it does with cisgender athletes, and that such legislation is discriminatory to transgender athletes. These groups also say that such legislation could open the door to humiliating treatment of all athletes who are women and girls who don’t fit culturally-accepted norms of femininity.
LGBTQ+ advocates decried the Texas bill throughout the legislative session, echoing similar sentiments on the harmful nature of barring transgender athletes from playing in sports teams that align with their gender identity.
“Trans people belong in sports—just like they belong in the arts, in tech, and in political office. Trans people belong. Period.”
“S.B. 15 directly targets transgender collegiate athletes and prevents them from having equal access to the same opportunities and benefits that cisgender collegiate athletes have, even though transgender athletes have been participating in collegiate sports with their cisgender counterparts since the early 2000s without incident,” Shelly Skeen, an attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a statement last week.
“The purpose and effect of this law is to deprive and exclude transgender collegiate athletes,” she continued. “Excluding transgender athletes from sports competition harms all collegiate athletes as well as the student body as a whole by depriving students of the full extent of the college experience.”
The legislation comes a month after the Biden administration proposed a rule that would forbid blanket bans against transgender athletes participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identity. The White House proposal was criticized by some LGBTQ+ advocates who noted it would still allow schools receiving federal funding to adopt policies that limit transgender athletes from participating in sports.
SB15 is one of several bills targeting transgender people that have been passed in Texas, including one making the state the largest in the nation to bar gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
At least 20 states in the U.S. have imposed restrictions on transgender athletes. Nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been passed in states across the nation this past year, restricting access to gender-affirming care, drag shows and the use of bathrooms that align with one’s gender identity.
“Trans people belong in sports—just like they belong in the arts, in tech, and in political office. Trans people belong. Period. This bill is just one in a slate of bills that target trans Texans and attempt to remove them from public life,” Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez said in a statement about the Texas bill earlier this month.