When Republican lawmakers stood in the Georgia Capitol last week to introduce a bill targeting transgender women, they framed it as an effort to “save girls’ sports” and argued it doesn’t discriminate. None of the nine speakers even mentioned “transgender.”
But the legislation – House Bill 276 from state Rep. Philip Singleton – is part of an orchestrated national effort to ban trans athletes from women’s sports. Supporters of the legislation in Georgia include powerful allies like Gov. Brian Kemp, and they have a long history of opposing LGBTQ equality efforts and supporting anti-LGBTQ bills. Several voted against an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law that passed with bipartisan support in 2020.
“There is no place for identity politics or discrimination of any type in sports. This is about biology and physiology, not psychology or sociology. This is about protecting our daughters, our sisters and our mothers. We as a legislature in Georgia have made it our business to protect the lives and livelihoods of our citizens,” Singleton said Thursday.
When asked if he had a message for trans women, Singleton said he wants athletes “to compete on a fair and level playing field.”
“We do not believe in any sort or form of discrimination whatsoever. And part of making sure we do that is making sure that we identify the physiological differences, whether it be age or sex or any other physiological difference, that would separate them and give a competitive advantage,” he added.
But Singleton’s legislative track record includes several efforts at discrimination against LGBTQ people.
In 2019, he introduced a bill that would ban transgender youth from competing in athletic events at public facilities. Last year, he voted against the hate crimes bill that Kemp later signed into law. Singleton also co-sponsored a bill that critics said could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ students on college campuses.
‘We are saying not in Georgia’
Singleton’s bill is part of a wave of anti-trans legislation across the country. At least 19 states are considering bills that would limit trans youth from participating in sports. In 2020, some 20 bills tried to ban trans athletes from participating in sports.
During his press conference Thursday, Singleton credited several lawmakers and groups “who took their time and energy to contribute to making this legislation happen.” His list included the nearly 40 Georgia lawmakers co-sponsoring the bill, as well as former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, the Alliance Defending Freedom, Save Women’s Sports and the Women’s Liberation Front.
The list is a who’s who of opponents of LGBTQ equality. In less than a year as a U.S. Senator, Loeffler introduced legislation that would make it a violation of federal law for transgender girls to compete in women’s sports in schools. She also donated to anti-LGBTQ groups and helped confirm an anti-LGBTQ judge to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is behind anti-trans bathroom bills across the nation, backed an anti-LGBTQ group at Georgia Tech, supported an anti-LGBTQ fire chief when the City of Atlanta fired him, and helped attack trans students in North Georgia as “perverts.”
Cole Muzio, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, called trans athletes playing in women’s sports “absurd.”
“We’re here because we’ve seen this just absurd on its face idea crop up all over the country,” Muzio said last week. “We’ve seen it pop up in places like Connecticut and California and Idaho and world competitions, and we are standing firm and saying ‘not in Georgia.’ We’re here to say that we’re going to draw a line here, we’re going to make sure that we’re protecting and saving girls sports in our state.”
In 2019, Muzio opposed a hate crimes bill as it was being considered by a legislative committee in Georgia. He said including “sexual orientation” and “gender” as protected classes would be a “dangerous and slippery slope.” The bill made history as the first time Georgia law offered specific protections for LGBTQ people.
When he introduced his new bill, Singleton cited a state policy in Connecticut that allows students to play on teams that match their gender identity. The state is among 17, along with Washington, D.C., with policies that allow trans high school students to join sports teams that align with their gender identity. The Alliance Defending Freedom is suing to overturn Connecticut’s policy.
When asked, Singleton couldn’t cite any examples in Georgia of conflicts with trans athletes participating in sports.
“We don’t always wait until after the travesties occurred. You know, sometimes we want to make sure we protect the travesty from happening,” he said.
Yet the state already bans trans athletes in women’s sports. The Georgia High School Association, which oversees sports in the state’s high schools, determines gender by what’s noted on a student’s birth certificate and expressly forbids boys from joining girls’ teams. Georgia is among 11 states that ban trans athletes in school sports, according to Trans Athlete.
‘This legislation has wheels’
State Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican from Cataula, called Singleton’s bill “an issue of public safety.”
“This is not a political issue. This is an issue of public safety. This is an issue of biology. This is an issue of science. Science must be used inside of this building no matter what we discuss,” Robertson said.
“And the hypocrisy that comes behind this type of action that causes young women in the state of Connecticut to have to hire attorneys to fight against a group like the ACLU that claims to care about the rights of individuals is absolutely obscene in the United States of America in the year 2020,” he added.
Singleton’s anti-trans bill stalled during a 2020 legislative session interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. But with the backing of powerful lawmakers, the measure is already gaining traction. On Tuesday, the Academic Support Subcommittee of the House Education Committee will vet the bill during a hearing.
Last week, six lawmakers joined Singleton and Muzio to support the bill during a press conference – Robertson and Reps. Josh Bonner, Sheri Gilligan, Todd Jones, Jodi Lott and Karen Mathiak. A crowd of lawmakers supported the bill but did not speak, including Rep. Wes Cantrell and Sen. Marty Harbin.
Bonner, Gilligan, Jones, Singleton and Cantrell voted against Georgia’s LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill last year. Harbin voted for it but has introduced legislation to allow adoption and foster care agencies in Georgia to refuse to place children with LGBTQ couples. He also backed anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation and criticized former Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2016.
Last year, Cantrell, Bonner and Mathiak supported a bill from state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart that called for doctors providing gender-affirming care to trans youth to receive 10-year prison terms.
Bonner and Lott are two of Kemp’s floor leaders for the legislative session, which could signal support for the bill from the governor. After Singleton’s press conference on Thursday, Kemp appeared from his office to join Singleton and other supporters of the bill for photos.
When asked if Kemp supports the bill, a spokesperson said the governor’s office does not comment on pending legislation. Singleton called Kemp’s appearance “a good sign.”
“My job is to get it on his desk, and then he’ll make the decision whether he supports it or not,” Singleton said.
Robertson said widespread support for the bill will help push it forward.
“I can tell you this. This legislation has wheels. It has an engine,” he said.