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Va. bill would bar trans student-athletes from teams matching gender identities

A bill introduced by Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Va. Beach) says schools and universities must designate their club athletic teams or sports as falling into one of three categories “based on biological sex.” (iStock)
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A Virginia legislator has proposed a bill seeking to bar transgender students in K-12 schools and colleges from competing on sports teams that match their gender identities.

The bill, introduced Tuesday by Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Va. Beach), says schools and universities must designate each of their club athletic teams or sports as falling into one of three categories “based on biological sex”: teams for male students, teams for female students, and coed or mixed teams that include both male and female students. The bill further stipulates students must submit identification of their “biological sex” on an “athletics eligibility form signed by a licensed physician, a licensed nurse practitioner … or physician assistant” to try out for a school sports team.

The proposed legislation, H.B. 1387, is sweeping in scope. It seeks to affect sports at all levels of competition — including “interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic” teams in both the K-12 and college realms. It attempts to influence private schools, too, prohibiting public schools from competing against private school teams unless the private schools agree to comply with the bill and restrict students to sports teams that match their sex as assigned at birth.

Greenhalgh did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. But the bill soon drew both strong support and opposition from parents, educators, LGBTQ advocates and some students in Virginia, with conservatives generally advocating for the bill as a way to boost fairness in sports while more left-leaning individuals argued that it will harm transgender students’ mental health and well-being.

The Virginia bill comes during a tsunami of education laws targeted to transgender students. In the past three academic years, legislators have passed 64 bills that alter how students learn and the rights they have at school, according to an analysis by The Washington Post — and of those laws, 42 percent bar transgender students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identities.

The bill also follows close on the heels of a recent move by the administration of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to severely restrict the rights of transgender students. The Youngkin administration in September proposed guidelines that would limit the rights of transgender students in schools, including requiring them to use the school facilities and sports teams that match their sex assigned at birth. Those policies could take effect this month.

Asked about the bill Tuesday night, a spokeswoman for Youngkin said that “the governor will review the legislation when it comes to his desk.” She did not answer questions on whether this was a bill sought by the administration.

The proposed bill drew praise from Ian Prior, a Loudoun County parent and former Trump administration official who founded Fight for Schools, an education advocacy group focused in part on promoting parents’ rights.

Prior said in a statement Wednesday that the bill is necessary to prevent students who were assigned male at birth from competing in school sports events, which he said is unfair.

“It defies logic and law that further action is even necessary to protect fair competition for female athletes,” Prior said. “It is of crucial importance that commonsense lawmakers take steps to maintain an equal playing field for female athletes.”

But others — including Virginia LGBTQ students’ rights group the Pride Liberation Project — decried the bill as mean-spirited and likely to worsen the health of transgender students, who are already more likely to suffer suicidal thoughts.

“Already, our schools are experiencing a mental health crisis,” members of the Pride Liberation Project wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Rather than introducing policy solutions that build safe and affirming schools though, our lawmakers are focused on attacking a student population that experiences extraordinarily high rates of depression and suicide.”