Senate approves transgender athlete bill in close vote, sends it back to House

David Beard, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
·4 min read

Apr. 9—MORGANTOWN The Senate spent about 90 minutes on Thursday debating what's been dubbed the transgender athlete and passed it on a relatively close vote 18-15. Five Republicans sided against it.

The Senate rewrite of the bill focuses on biological males participating on female sports teams in secondary schools and colleges.

It says, "Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex where selection for such teams is based upon competitive skill or the activity involved is a contact sport."

It also allows for lawsuits: "Any student aggrieved by a violation of this section may bring an action against a county board of education or state institution of higher education alleged to be responsible for the alleged violation."

It distinguishes athletic teams designated for males, men or boys from those for females, women or girls, and from those that are coed or mixed. Its measures apply to secondary schools and college-level. It expressly does not bar anyone from participating in sports for males, men, boys, coed or mixed.

Sen Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he understood that the purpose of the bill is to defend women's sports and said its current form is better than the House version.

The House version aimed to bar transgender athletes from participating on single-sex sports teams under jurisdiction of the Secondary Schools Activities Commission, and required each county school district to verify the athlete's sex at birth based on the student's original birth certificate or a physical exam of the athlete's reproductive anatomy.

But he feared that despite privacy provisions in the bill, a person singled out for questioning about their gender might be psychologically harmed in some way. And it could open up opportunities for unfair attacks on boys and girls who may not be typically masculine or feminine from people who may want to embarrass them.

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, got a bit testy in a back and forth with Education chair Patricia Rucker over what he called the SSAC's transgender athlete policy. Rucker had handed out the document and it says a school will evaluate whether a transgender student athlete represents a threat to competitive equity or the safety of teammates or opposing players.

Lindsay maintained this is an official SSAC policy and renders the bill moot. Rucker said it's an internal guidance document of the board of directors, hasn't been adopted by the commission and isn't official policy.

Rucker also said the the internal document leaves schools responsible and subject to lawsuits should an issue arise.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, cited statements from a number of medical associations regarding transgender students. Transgender students, he said, are at higher risk for suicide and depression and this bill will only worsen the problem.

Three Republicans spoke against including college-level sports in the bill. Sen Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, told members the Republican governor of South Dakota vetoed a similar bill because it overstepped.

The South Dakota governor said the NCAA is a private organization, has its own polices for transgender athletes and can do what it pleases. The state would have no chance in a legal challenge of the NCAA.

Enacting the law in West Virginia, Weld said, could subject state colleges to a variety of sanctions and harm the schools and, as a result, the athletes.

Several senators spoke in support of the bill. Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, said she was a tomboy and a championship athlete, and is now a mother of girls and a coach of girls' sports teams. She's spoken to female high school and college athletes who support the bill.

The bill, she said, simply ensures female athletes have protections and secures the integrity of women's sports.

Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, read emails sent to him by two married lesbians who support the bill.

One of them said that the transgender community is erasing what it means to be a woman. She wrote, "I urge you to save our young women from allowing biological males into our sports."

The other said large segments of the LGBT community support the bill.

Rucker wrapped up the debate, saying the bill isn't about transgender individuals. It's about protecting women's sports. Among other things, unfair competition against biological males could affect biological female athletes' ability to get scholarships.

All local senators voted with their party except Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, who voted no because of the college sports issue. The bill goes back to the House for amendment concurrence.

In other action, the Senate concurred with the House amendment to SB 387, the bill extending the Department of Health and Human Resources pilot program to drug test applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The Senate version extended the program through 2022.The House changed it to 2026. The bill now heads to the governor.

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