Texas considers largest slate of anti-transgender bills in the nation

By |
April 21, 2021

About 80 people signed up to testify at a hearing Tuesday in the Texas House regarding a bill to ban transgender students from participating in school sports. The proposed law would mandate that Texas youth only be allowed to compete in sports under the sex on their birth certificate, a rule already in place under the state’s UIL (university interscholastic league).

There are a whopping 30 proposed anti-LGBTQ laws currently in the Texas legislature, the most of any state in the country. These include sports restrictions, bans on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, threats to revoke provider medical licenses if they treat trans youth, HIV criminalization, bills that create loopholes to allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing and other areas, and more. 

The proposals go against values stated by Texans and Americans overall opposing discrimination. An April 16 PBS/NPR/Marist poll found an overwhelming majority of Americans (including Republicans) oppose anti-trans state legislation. In Texas, a 2015 poll showed that the majority of Texans opposed anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination, while a 2019 poll showed that 71% of Texans opposed allowing businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ people on the basis of religious belief.

"The attacks on trans youth and athletes this session are heartbreaking. What we saw yesterday at the public testimony on HB 4042, and what has been consistent throughout this session so far, is that our community of trans advocates and allies are willing to risk their physical, emotional, and mental well-being by coming to the state capitol just to ensure that facts are being shared, that their truth is heard," said Emmett Schelling, Executive Director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT).

"While it is heartbreaking, it is also inspiring to see so many trans advocates and trans kids with their families travel across the state to let their unconditional love for their trans loved ones be put on the record and to let legislators know it is not their place to stand in the way of that love and support. At TENT, we're grateful to see so much support for our community, but we also know that no one should have to have their humanity debated like this, especially children. The discourse itself is damaging, so children's lives are at stake with every hearing. We are fighting with all we've got to make sure that our message of hope and inclusion is louder than the ignorance that is getting a stage right now.”

Serena Sonoma, GLAAD Communications Coordinator and Regional Media Lead, U.S. South, said Texas' slate of bills is bigger than other states, but they share similarities with bills being proposed in more than 30 states nationwide.

“All leading medical associations have come out against these bills, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which calls them dangerous and undermining the health and safety of children these lawmakers say they want to protect," Sonoma said.

"Sponsoring lawmakers, including last night in Austin, cannot cite a single example in which trans girls in student sports have caused a problem. All of Texas’ more than 20 bills are simply rooted in discrimination, causing untold harm to all children in Texas. They also threaten the state’s economy, as sports and business leaders are sounding the alarm about the dangerous messages they send.”

At Tuesday’s House hearing, 80 people signed up to testify—most in opposition to the bill banning transgender students’ participation in sports. Those included trans students, parents of trans youth, cisgender women athletes, faith leaders, professors, doctors and mental health professionals, business leaders, and more. Many of the statements delivered as testimony were transcribed in a Twitter thread by Equality Texas. 

Rep. James Talerico asked bill sponsor Rep. Cole Hefner if he was aware of any problems with trans student athletes in the state of Texas, to which Hefner responded “no.” Talerico then informed Hefner that the rate of suicide attempts among the state’s trans teens is 42%, and asked, “Which is a bigger problem?”

When Rep. Alma Allen asked Hefner whether he could provide any evidence of a need for the law, Hefner replied that the law would be “proactive” rather than “reactive.”

University Scholastic League director Jamie Harrison testified that rules already prohibit trans youth from competing against athletes of the same gender, and pointed out that girls in Texas are allowed to play on boys’ teams if there are not enough interested girls to form a team at a school—negating the issue of “safety” for female athletes that the bill’s sponsor has repeated.

Maggie, an athlete, said “I have played against girls who are bigger, taller, and more skilled than me. And I have competed against boys who are shorter, smaller, and less talented than me. There is more variation within gender than there is between genders.”

A cisgender woman testified that she played soccer in Mexico and towered over her team mates. "I was built like a tank" by comparison, she said. She asked whether she should have had to carry around her birth certificate in case she would be questioned.

Reverend Doctor Mary Wilson raised the example of trans tennis player Renee Richards, who lost a high-profile match against a cisgender woman competitor. Wilson warned that “transgender children are being betrayed by their state government and are incurring moral injury and moral suffering.” She added that as adults, “it takes a very very long time to recover” from such injury. 

Professor Paige Davis spoke about being “legitimately horrified” when her son came out as transgender, but researched and learned about what it means to be trans. “We tend to turn to fear in the absence of truth,” said Davis, who submitted written testimony along with resources for the legislators to learn more about trans youth.

Eli, a trans teen boy who has been forced under Texas rules to wrestle against girls, said that girls often choose to forfeit matches rather than compete with him. “Wrestling is a contact sport,” he said, “I've had back injuries and had my nose broken on the mat. [But] the worst was the bullying."

Amalia, a young cisgender girl who plays flag football and other sports, said that as a cis girl athlete, legislators seem “very concerned about me these days” and asked to  “respectfully decline that concern.” She said it’s insulting to women to “continually be told that were are less capable than males” in sports, and says that the rhetoric of cis women athletes supposedly needing protection from trans women does damage to the self-esteem of both groups.

Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses that support LGBTQ inclusion, testified that business leaders are opposed to fostering harassment and discrimination. The group pointed to its April 19 open letter signed by 43 major state employers, and said that the “inbox is full of other companies who want to join." The group noted Texas could lose an estimated $1 billion if the NCAA cancels events based on its policy to not hold championships in states that discriminate. Houston is to host the 2024 NCAA football national championship and Dallas the women’s final four in 2023.

Lawmakers in dozens of states proposing these bills could not cite a single instance of trans participation in sports being an issue in their state. In March, GLAAD and Athlete Ally helped release a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors, signed by over 500 college athletes, calling for an end to the sports bans and for the NCAA to follow-through on its own guidance not to host events in states that discriminate. On April 12th, the board issued a statement "firmly and unequivocally" supporting the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports, and restating its policy that championship events will only be held in “locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.”

Research shows participation of girls in sports overall is higher in states with trans-inclusive policies, which counters the false claim that letting trans kids play somehow harms girls’ access to sports.

Athletes are also speaking up in support of trans participation, including former Dallas Cowboy RK Russell, and soccer star Megan Rapinoe: “Transgender kids deserve the same chances to enjoy sports; to gain confidence, self-respect and leadership skills; and to learn what it means to be part of a team. When we tell transgender girls that they can’t play girls’ sports — or transgender boys that they can’t play boys’ sports — they miss out on these important experiences and opportunities. And we lose the right to say we care about children.”

Read GLAAD’s guide for journalists covering state anti-transgender bills here.

Read statements from 12 major medical associations supporting gender-affirming care and against bills criminalizing it and banning sports participation, here.

About Equality Texas:
Equality Texas is the largest statewide organization working to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration. The Equality Texas Foundation works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through education, community organizing, and collaboration.

About Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT):
TENT is an organization dedicated to furthering gender diverse equality in Texas. We work to accomplish this through education and networking in both public and private forums. Through our efforts we strive to halt discrimination through social, legislative, and corporate education.