Georgia Senate committee approves ban on trans athletes

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A bill that bans transgender women from high school sports passed a Georgia Senate committee on Wednesday, becoming the fastest-moving of at least four anti-LGBTQ bills before lawmakers. 

The “Save Girls Sports Act” from Sen. Marty Harbin, a Republican from Tyrone, passed the Senate Education & Youth Committee on a 5-3 party-line vote. It now moves to the Rules Committee – chaired by state Sen. Jeff Mullis, a co-sponsor of the bill – before a likely vote by the full state Senate. 

Senate Bill 266, introduced on Feb. 25, is the latest of four anti-LGBTQ bills filed in recent weeks. But its quick passage on Wednesday hints that it’s on a legislative fast-track for Senate approval before Crossover Day on Monday. That’s the deadline for a bill to pass either legislative chamber to remain in consideration during the current session. 

Harbin, a longtime supporter of anti-LGBTQ legislation, repeatedly misgendered transgender athletes as he discussed the bill during Wednesday’s hearing.

“Forcing girls to play against biological males limits the ability of young women in the state of Georgia to win competitions, receive scholarships, and to achieve the highest levels of success in their sports,” Harbin said. “Senate Bill 266 protects the level playing field.”

The bill prohibits transgender girls from women’s sports teams by defining gender as a person’s biological sex at birth and banning biological males from joining women’s athletic teams. The bill would allow students or their parents to file a complaint with a school to allege a violation of the ban.

The bill is similar to House Bill 372 from state Rep. Rick Jasperse, a Republican from Jasper. A third bill – House Bill 276 from state Rep. Philip Singleton, a Republican from Sharpsburg – would expand the ban to include transgender women from college athletics. It would also allow cisgender athletes to sue schools if they can prove they were denied an opportunity to participate in sports by the inclusion of trans woman. Singleton’s bill was vetted during a House subcommittee hearing on Feb. 9.

Harbin supported Singleton’s bill when it was introduced. Harbin’s bill has 17 co-sponsors, all Republicans – Sens. Randy Robertson, Chuck Payne, Lee Anderson, Mullis, Billy Hickman, Lindsey Tippins, Burt Jones, Frank Ginn, Matt Brass, Clint Dixon, Greg Dolezal, Bo Hatchett, Steve Gooch, Max Burns, Carden Summers, Bruce Thompson and Larry Walker.

State Sen. Kim Jackson (Photo courtesy C. Brown Photography)

‘This bill is ripe for weaponization’

State Sen. Kim Jackson, the only LGBTQ member of the Georgia Senate, blasted Harbin’s bill and said it would hurt trans students. 

“As state legislators, we have a responsibility to protect Georgia’s most vulnerable. At the very least, we have a responsibility to do no harm. This bill fails miserably at both of those principles,” Jackson told Project Q Atlanta. 

“Given the high number of suicides and homelessness rates, we know that trans children are among Georgia’s most vulnerable. Any bills that seek to ostracize and cast out trans children is fundamentally harmful,” she added. 

Jackson said the legislation would also negatively impact cis-gender female athletes.

“This bill is ripe for weaponization against Georgia’s elite girl athletes. Any girl who is faster or stronger than the other girls could be subject to having to ‘prove’ their gender through an embarrassing and invasive process,” she said.

State Sen. Lester Jackson (Photo by Matt Hennie)

‘There are none in Georgia’

All three bills are part of a wave of anti-trans legislation filed across the country this year, in part through support from Alliance Defending Freedom. On Wednesday, Harbin invited Matt Sharp, ADF’s senior counsel, to join him in discussing the legislation during the hearing.

“He is with me to help handle any of the legal issues because he is an attorney that’s worked on that,” Harbin said.

Supporters of the legislation have not cited any examples of a cis-gender female athlete in Georgia being displaced by a transgender participant. And 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.

Yet Harbin and Sharp said the issue is one that lawmakers need to address now. 

“We pass a lot of legislation in foresight of seeing things coming to us. And I think based upon what we’re seeing, this is one where I think we need to address and get ahead of the curve,” Harbin said. 

State Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat from Atlanta, pushed Sharp to cite any example of a transgender athlete in Georgia replacing a cis-gender participant. Sharp repeatedly deflected and instead pointed to a handful of transgender athletes in Connecticut, which – unlike Georgia – has a state policy allowing students to play on teams that match their gender identity.

“So obviously, there’s not a lot of statistics on that,” Sharp said before pivoting to student-athletes in Connecticut.

“I’m talking about Georgia,” Parent interrupted. 

“I understand that. But with Connecticut, it was literally just a matter of weeks from a winter indoor track season to a spring outdoor track season that the two biological males began competing on female teams,” he said.

“So there are none in Georgia,” Parent asked. 

“And so it just takes a short period of time for women’s sports to be decimated as a result of that,” Sharp responded. 

“So again, in Georgia,” Parent asked.

“We don’t have hard statistics on that. But it just shows we need to act to do this before girls lose out on opportunities, before the records are broken, before they lose out on the spot on the podium,” Sharp added.

“So there are none in Georgia,” Parent said.

Sen. Lester Jackson, a Democrat from Savannah, pushed Harbin to cite examples of cis-gender athletes in Georgia that have lost a roster spot to a transgender girl.

“Do you foresee this problem in Georgia at the present time,” Jackson asked.

“Based upon what we see going on, I think it is one that we could get ahead of from that standpoint. I think from what we’re seeing in Connecticut and seeing in other places, I think it’s just wisdom that our girls don’t have to deal with that issue and should not have to deal with that issue. And I see it as a protection for them just like anything else,” Harbin said.

Jackson then asked Harbin if any cis-gender athletes in Georgia lost college scholarships due to a transgender teammate. 

“Not to my knowledge,” Harbin said.

The committee approved the legislation after a nearly 45-minute hearing. Sens. Jason Anavitarte, Brass, Tippins, Dolezal and Sheila McNeil – all Republicans – voted for the bill. Sens. Sonya Halpern, Jackson and Parent – all Democrats – voted against it.

In addition to the three bills banning transgender athletes, state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart targets doctors who help transgender children in House Bill 401.

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