Despite a warning that legislation limiting transgender participants in sports could keep future NCAA events out of Oklahoma, the state House advanced a bill that would prevent transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports.
Following more than two hours of fierce discussion and debate Monday, the Oklahoma House passed legislation aimed at preventing “male-bodied athletes” from participating in female sports at K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
The GOP-controlled House passed Senate Bill 2, which states: “Athletic teams designated for ‘females,’ ‘women’ or ‘girls’ shall not be open to students of the male sex.”
The legislation, which was amended on the floor, would require parents to sign an affidavit “acknowledging the biological sex of the student at birth” in order for a child to participate in youth sports.
Democrats said the bill was a disgusting and shameful attempt to bully transgender Oklahomans, namely transgender youth.
Republicans said they were simply leveling the playing field for their daughters and granddaughters to participate in sports.
“I do not want any person to leave here thinking that the design of this bill is to be cruel or to be mean to a group of children,” said Rep. Toni. Hasenbeck, the bill’s author. “It is simply to protect the rights of young women so they do not have to compete against males, who are biologically and physiologically better able to run (and) jump higher and faster.”
Democrats argued transgender girls in sports is a nonissue. Republicans could not provide any Oklahoma-specific examples of when transgender girls or women competing in sports was an issue.
In the six years since the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association adopted a policy about transgender athletes, the group says it has never had to enforce its rules.
“Just because we don’t see a problem, we need to be proactive and be ready for that problem when it does occur,” said Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said SB 2 will worsen high rates of violence against the transgender community.
LGBTQ groups deeply oppose the legislation and have expressed concerns about the psychological toll it could have on transgender youth.
“Bills like this are just the latest example of this anti-transgender stigma that does nothing to save women’s sports, but it does lead to increased risk factors and creates a culture of violence and fear in the lives of the folks who are targeted in this bill,” Nichols said.
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Saying there’s no expense too great for defending female athletes, Hasenbeck dismissed concerns the NCAA might move its athletic events out of Oklahoma should Senate Bill 2 become law.
Pointing to the 30 other states considering similar bills, Hasenbeck suggested the NCAA was making empty threats.
Last week, the NCAA board of governors issued a statement supporting opportunities for transgender student-athletes and said it would host events only in locations that are “safe, healthy and free of discrimination.”
“To single us out in some of the news articles, and to say that we are going to lose all this money and the NCAA said they are not coming here is simply false,” Hasenbeck said.
OPINION:Oklahoma already has rules for transgender athletes, so legislation unnecessary
NCAA events pump some $100 million annually into the Oklahoma economy. The Women’s College World Series alone brings in between $22 million and $27 million annually.
Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, said state lawmakers should be focused on creating a safe space for all Oklahoma children to grow and thrive. Turner is the nation’s first nonbinary state lawmaker and appeared disheartened as the debate on SB 2 progressed.
“We are not providing a safe and welcoming place for our children,” Turner said. “We are not providing a place for people to civically engage in a way that they feel seen and heard. You’re not providing a place where I feel comfortable.”
SB 2 passed the House 73-19 with most Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting in opposition. The bill now advances to the Senate.