There is an intense debate over legislation in West Virginia concerning transgender athletes.
At issue is whether school students whose biological sex is male but whose gender identity is female (transgender) should be allowed or prevented from participating in girls’ sports at their schools.
Female transgender sports participation is happening more across the country, but not here, at least not yet, and West Virginia education, athletic and medical experts should be thinking about how to handle this complicated and still not well understood issue.
That is why Governor Jim Justice should veto HB 3293.
The bill, which passed both chambers of the legislature and now sits on the Governor’s desk, specifically prevents a transgender female from participating on a female sports team at public secondary schools or state colleges.
Bill proponents argue the legislation protects athletes who are biologically female (cisgender) from the disadvantage of competing with another player who is faster and stronger because they are biologically male, but identify as female.
Opponents argue the legislation discriminates against transgender females by denying them an opportunity to participate in a safe and healthy environment in the sport of their choice.
The opponents of the bill also say research shows transgender women do not have an inherent advantage. However, the NCAA, which promotes the inclusive policy of allowing transgender participation, does require testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to qualify to compete.
As you can see, the issue gets complicated.
West Virginia is not alone. NBC News reported that more than two dozen states have passed or are considering legislation prohibiting transgender student athlete participation. That prompted the NCAA Board of Governors to issue a statement this week suggesting that states with such laws could be rejected as venues for NCAA Championships.
It is unclear whether that policy would affect, for example, an NCAA playoff game hosted by the WVU women’s soccer team or an NCAA Division II basketball tournament game at Fairmont State University.
That is one of the reasons state Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo (R-Kanawha) opposed the bill. He fears it will have unintended consequences. “Is it a solution looking for a problem? Yes, I think it is,” he said.
For the record, Takubo, who is medical doctor, does not believe transgender girls should compete against cisgender girls at the middle or high school level. However, adding in colleges prompted his “no” vote.
“When the college aspect got put into this, that’s what gave me heartburn,” he said. “This could cause some major hiccups for a problem we don’t have.”
Lindsay Hecox, a transgender female runner who is fighting a court battle to compete on the Boise State track team, told Runners World that one of her biggest challenges is that most people simply do not understand transgender people.
“These laws diminish trans women to being just men pretending to be women, and these lawmakers have no idea about trans vocabulary and what it actually means,” she said.
Clearly there is a learning curve here for not only legislators, but also others, me included, who are trying to catch up with what feels like rapidly changing cultural norms. What we should not do is codify a hardened position before all the implications are fully understood.