Missouri bill restricting transgender youth sports participation advances in House

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Jeanne Kuang
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A bill banning transgender students from playing on sports teams that match their gender got a vote of approval in the Missouri House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon.

It was added as an amendment sponsored by Rep. Chuck Basye, a Rocheport Republican, to an unrelated bill addressing students’ grades during the pandemic. It got 100 votes in favor, 51 against and one Democrat voting present.

Six Republicans, including Lee’s Summit Rep. Jonathan Patterson, joined most Democrats in voting against it after an impassioned debate that caused the bill to be tabled Tuesday evening and revisited on Wednesday.

The bill itself, awaiting first-round approval in the House, remained in limbo after the trans sports measure was adopted. It was tabled on Wednesday for the second time, in the middle of debate over another amendment to ban critical race theory and The New York Times’ “The 1619 Project” from being taught in schools.

The Times project, named for the year that the first enslaved Africans arrived in the Virginia colony, argues that racism and the institution of slavery are defining influences in the country’s history. Critical race theory is an academic movement based on the idea that the legal system and other institutions perpetuate racism.

Proponents touted the trans sports legislation as an effort to protect girls’ and women’s sports from unfair competition with teammates who have physiological advantages.

It is part of a national wave of legislation filed in Republican-controlled statehouses after conservative groups identified the topic of girls’ sports as a social issue to focus on — similar to a largely unsuccessful round of bills regulating transgender people’s use of bathrooms that match their gender a few years ago.

Kansas lawmakers have passed a version of the sports ban. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is expected to veto it and has until Monday to act.

The Missouri bill would ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ teams in events “that are sponsored by a public school.” It would only allow transgender boys to play on “coed” or “mixed” teams if they have begun transitioning, or to play on boys’ teams if the school does not offer an equivalent girls’ team.

The Missouri State High School Activities Association currently allows transgender boys undergoing testosterone treatment to compete on boys’ teams, and transgender girls to compete on girls’ teams after documenting one year of treatments that suppress testosterone.

The NCAA last week signaled it wouldn’t hold championship events in states that passed the bans. On the floor, Basye said he did not know if his bill applies to college sports but that “you could read that into it.”

Opponents have decried the measure as discriminatory, unnecessary and detrimental to the mental health of transgender youth, who have higher rates of suicide than cisgender youth.

“The kids that will see this headline tomorrow about this issue, what happened here in the state of Missouri will devastate them,” said Lakeshire Democrat Michael Burton. “And it’s not right.”

Basye is pushing for the legislation to be adopted as a constitutional amendment, which would trigger a statewide campaign and election over the matter. He said Wednesday he still hopes to do so, in addition to his amendment to the schools bill.

“Women’s rights are something that we have fought for, for years, ” said Rep. Suzie Pollock, a Lebanon Republican who has sponsored a bill to prohibit transgender minors from receiving transition-related medical treatments. “This isn’t a hate amendment. This is saying that the majority should have the right to compete and be treated fairly and not be subjected to unnecessary and terrible things.”

She rebuked opponents for arguing the bill would increase suicide risk for transgender youth.

“I hate that suicide is brought up so much as to give ideas to our youth,” Pollock said. “Suicide is never an option.”

Other proponents said they were worried teenage girls would be exposed to transgender girls’ genitalia in locker rooms and showers.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, took the floor to accuse Republicans of using the legislation to win primaries. If it passes the House, it faces hurdles getting through the Senate with three weeks left in the legislative session.

Democrats set up an emotional debate to oppose the measure, with many comparing the issue to civil rights for racial minorities or gay and lesbian people. There are no openly transgender lawmakers in the Missouri statehouse.

“A lot of you are straight, white, male Republicans,” said Ballwin Rep. Shamed Dogan, the only Black Republican in the House and an opponent of the bill. “I wonder how many of you have ever walked into a room and been the super-minority among people who look like you … I just encourage you to try and put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.”