Athletes, parents make their case as NC debates banning transgender girls from teams

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Danielle Battaglia
·5 min read
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Parents, doctors and transgender teenagers spoke out Wednesday against a North Carolina bill that would ban transgender girls and women from playing on North Carolina’s women’s sports teams.

They were met by some of North Carolina’s faith-based organizations and parents of female athletes, who spoke in support of the ban. They say allowing transgender girls to play with their cisgender female peers will give them an unfair advantage on the playing field.

Rep. Mark Brody, a Monroe Republican, sponsored and wrote House Bill 358, which is called the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” It would prohibit transgender girls from playing on girls’ athletic teams in middle and high school as well as college.

Rep. Mark Brody the sponsor of HB 358 answers questions about how the bill would be enforced during a hearing on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building on Raleigh, N.C.
Rep. Mark Brody the sponsor of HB 358 answers questions about how the bill would be enforced during a hearing on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building on Raleigh, N.C.

“Girls and women deserve to compete on a level playing field, and this bill will ensure exactly that in North Carolina,” said John Rustin, executive director of the N.C. Family Policy Council. “To pretend that there are no biological or physiological differences between girls and boys is simply ignoring the truth.”

It’s one of three bills proposed in the General Assembly that critics say would limit the rights of LGBTQ people, especially transgender youth. The other two address healthcare for LGBTQ people and would prevent doctors from performing gender reassignment surgery or providing hormone treatment for people who are under 21.

Those who oppose the sports bill say it discriminates against young people. Several people discussed their children’s love for sports, need for acceptance and understanding from lawmakers about what it means to be transgender.

One mother told lawmakers Wednesday that she has a daughter whose classmates and teammates are unaware that she’s transgender. She said this bill would essentially out her daughter.

Katie Jennifer stood with her daughter, Madison, and told the lawmakers that her daughter was told when she was 8 years old that she couldn’t play softball because she is transgender. She said she’s grateful she has found other places to let her daughter play and hopes by the time her daughter reaches high school, she would be protected.

“Lawmakers are ramming this bill through in just a few weeks and making it so Maddie and other transgender young people aren’t allowed to be part of their schools team,” Jennifer said. “What a shame that is to deny my child and other children across North Carolina all the social, mental and physical health benefits.”

‘Athletes deserve fairness’

Brody introduced the bill to the committee Wednesday and said he knew it would be controversial. He said he hoped people who oppose the bill would offer better solutions.

Charlie Rae, a woman who said she suffered from gender dysphoria as a child, was joined by other female athletes, including two invited by Brody, to speak in support of the bill. Rae said she supports the bill to stop discrimination against women athletes.

“I will tell you that I know kids need participation,” Rae said. “I needed sports, but if I completed against males I would not have won my over a dozen gold medals.”

Beth Stelzer, a powerlifter and the founder of the Save Womens Sports organization, said she trained three hours a day, five days a week in the hopes of regaining her confidence after being in an abusive situation. But when she finally went to compete, a protest broke out to allow a transgender woman to compete with the other females.

Beth Stelzer with ‘Save Women’s Sports’ speaks in favor of HB 358 during a hearing before the Judiciary 1 House Standing Committee on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building on Raleigh, N.C.
Beth Stelzer with ‘Save Women’s Sports’ speaks in favor of HB 358 during a hearing before the Judiciary 1 House Standing Committee on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building on Raleigh, N.C.

She said it was devastating for her and other women there who knew that a male could physiologically out compete them.

“I’m here today to remind you that I represent people from all backgrounds, and we stand together in the truth that athletes deserve fairness,” Stelzer said.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Guilford County, asked the bill sponsors how they would determine a person’s gender assigned at birth.

“How are we going to enforce this?” Harrison asked. “Are doctors going to have to check, excuse my bluntness, their genitalia?”

Brody said the standard physical exams that doctors perform on athletes should take care of that.

But parents weren’t satisfied with that answer.

Jennifer Olsen spoke on behalf of her daughter and instantly began to cry when talking about her daughter’s love of sports. Olsen said that the North Carolina Athletic Association has a policy that bans discrimination in sports.

Jennifer Olson speaks in opposition of HB 358 before the Judiciary 1 House Standing Committee on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building on Raleigh, N.C.
Jennifer Olson speaks in opposition of HB 358 before the Judiciary 1 House Standing Committee on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at the Legislative Office Building on Raleigh, N.C.

“This bill is talking about 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds,” Olsen said. “This is not about women. It is about girls. This is about my daughter, and if she couldn’t play sports, it would significantly impact her confidence, her self-esteem and she just wouldn’t feel welcome.”

Brody was asked about the work he did before filing the bill to learn about people who are transgender. He said he did research.

When asked if he spoke to any transgender people he said he had not.

“This is something that the people of North Carolina have required us to do it,” Brody said. “They’ve required us to step up and deal with all issues including controversial issues and this is no exception.”

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