Opponents denounce bill targeting trans youth in Georgia

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Parents of transgender students, LGBTQ advocates and Democratic lawmakers spoke out Tuesday against legislation that would ban trans athletes from women’s sports in high schools and colleges across Georgia. 

They were rallying against House Bill 276 from Rep. Philip Singleton, a Republican from Sharpsburg. The bill, which is backed by several powerful anti-LGBTQ lawmakers, received its first legislative hearing just five days after Singleton introduced it. 

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat, shared comments from transgender students who are bullied at school, wear gym clothes over their regular clothes to avoid changing in school locker rooms and wait all day so they can use the bathroom at home. Nguyen said the legislation will further ostracize trans students.

“Transgender girls are among some of our some of our most vulnerable students when it comes to harassment and violence,” Nguyen said. “When we see that transgender students are fully supported in schools, they thrive.”

“Nowhere in this bill do I see any protections for transgender girls,” she added.

Nguyen is a member of the House Education Committee and the Academic Support Subcommittee that held the hearing on Tuesday.

Heidi Miracle, the mother of a transgender daughter, said the bill would “devastate” trans girls by further ostracizing them and essentially banning them from playing sports. 

“If transgender girls are told their only option is to compete on boys’ teams, they will simply not play sports. Hands down,” said Miracle, who is also community engagement director for PLFAG Woodstock.

“Without a doubt, they will not play sports and they will lose out on all the fantastic benefits that sports can offer. Transgender youth need to fit in to be accepted. To force them to be on a team with a gender identity that does not match their own and against their will would be devastating,” she added. 

Jen Slipakoff, who has a transgender daughter, spoke out against House Bill 276 during a hearing on Tuesday.

‘My daughter is not a threat’

Jen Slipakoff, an LGBTQ advocate and former state House candidate, said sports brings hope, socialization and exercise to her transgender daughter. She said Singleton’s bill would “take that away from her.”

“It’s not dangerous for my daughter to be on the same sports team as her girl friends,” Slipakoff said. “She’s not taking the spot of another, more deserving girl, as if my daughter deserves less than. She is not a threat. Rather, she is a teenager that has worked in the last decade trying to help people understand who she really is.”

Shannon Clawson, state outreach manager for Georgia Equality, said the legislation would negatively impact the state’s schools, economy and students. The bill would damage the state’s inclusive business climate and threaten a dozen NCCA championships scheduled in the state in the next five years, she said.

“Why are we risking real athletic and economic opportunity on an issue that has not been a problem in Georgia thus far,” Clawson asked. 

“There is no evidence to support the claim that allowing transgender athletes to participate will reduce or harm participation in girls’ sports. And in fact, evidence suggests that inclusion of transgender athletes has no impact on sports participation of women’s athletic achievement,” she added.

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat and one of seven LGBTQ members of the state legislature, said the bill targets transgender youth despite claims by Singleton and supporters of the legislation that it does not. Wilson is also a member of the Academic Support Subcommittee.

“Have you met with other members of the LGBT community to allay their fears of what this bill is targeted or directed to?” Wilson asked. 

Singleton said several LGBTQ people he talked with support the legislation.

“I have reached out to and talked to many members of the LGBT community. I have some members of that community that are willing to testify in support of the bill. There actually are a lot of members of the LGBT community that are very supportive of the bill, primarily because of their focus on women’s rights,” Singleton said.

State Rep. Matthew Wilson said House Bill 276 targets transgender students.

‘We need to be careful we don’t discriminate’

State Rep. Becky Evans, an Atlanta Democrat and member of the Academic Support Subcommittee, pushed Singleton to address whether his bill addresses an actual problem. The Georgia High School Association, which governs school sports in the state, already prohibits transgender athletes.

“What is the current problem? Who has experienced this problem,” Evans asked. “I would offer that we need to be careful we don’t discriminate against other human beings while in pursuit of trying to protect these human beings.”

When asked last week, Singleton couldn’t cite any examples in Georgia of conflicts with trans athletes participating in sports.

“We are trying to prevent people from being hurt in Georgia,” Singleton said Tuesday. “We don’t as a legislature wait until we have a bunch of young women that come up who have been hurt and damaged and their lives have been changed negatively.”

Several supporters of the legislation also spoke during the hearing, including state Rep. Sheri Gilligan; Cole Muzio, president of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia; Virginia Galloway of the Faith & Freedom Coalition; and Mike Griffin, a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. 

Gilligan and Muzio spoke last week when Singleton introduced the legislation. Galloway and Griffin have supported anti-LGBTQ legislation and opposed LGBTQ equality efforts for years at the State Capitol.

After an hour-long hearing on Tuesday, state Rep. Will Wade, the subcommittee chair, adjourned the meeting without a vote.

“There are a few items I want to work on in this bill with the author,” Wade said.

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