State Sen. Sally Harrell, the mother of a transgender child, after the vote to ban children like hers from school sports. (Photo: Emma Hurt/Axios)

UPDATE 4/5, 12:31 p.m.: ADDS Haley, Oakley comments; GHSA policies on gender; corrects minor typos

by Robin Kemp

With less than an hour before Sine Die, the Georgia House voted to ban transgender students from participating in school sports, adding a last-minute amendment for an appointed board through the Georgia High School Association. That ten-member committee will meet twice a year, includes appointments by the governor and several other elected officials and has the power to conduct audits and take away Quality Basic Education (QBE) funds from schools that do not comply with GHSA policy banning transgender students from taking part in sports.

The legislation, which singles out male-to-female trans children, was added to a bill that proponents say is meant to stop schools from discussing “divisive concepts.”

The bill goes to Gov. Brian Kemp, who is expected to sign it into law, making Georgia the 15th state to ban transgender youth from taking part in school sports.

Who will be on the committee?

Appointees to the oversight committee will include:

  • one from the governor
  • one from the lieutenant governor
  • one from the Georgia House speaker
  • two from the Georgia School Superintendents Association
  • one from the Georgia School Boards Association
  • one from “a state-wide association of high school athletic
    coaches with a current membership of not less than 300 Georgia residents and which is recognized by a majority of the executive oversight committee”
  • one from “a state-wide association of high school athletic
    officials, referees, and umpires with a current membership of not less than 300 Georgia residents and which is recognized by a majority of the executive oversight committee”
  • two “appointed by the governing body of the athletic association”

The bill makes no provision for recognition of any representation from parents of transgender children or from transgender student athletes, nor for any groups that might provide a different perspective to the rest of the board.

GHSA’s existing policy on sports participation by gender reads, “Girls may participate on boys’ teams when there is no girls’ team offered in that sport by the school.  Boys are not allowed to play on girls’ teams even when there is no corresponding boys’ sport,” based on this interpretation: “A student’s gender is determined by the gender noted on his/her birth certificate.” Cheerleading is considered a co-ed sport, GHSA notes.

Under GHSA’s current by-laws, “The GHSA will honor a gender determination made by a member school. The GHSA will not make gender identity determinations nor entertain appeals of the member school’s determination.”

As for locker room use according to gender, “The GHSA will attempt to accommodate requests for private restroom or locker/dressing room facilities for students requesting the same at GHSA playoff events or contests provided notice of the request is made as soon as possible to the GHSA office. No student shall be required to utilize the private facilities.”

The amendment to the bill states, “If the athletic association determines that it is necessary and appropriate to prohibit students whose gender is male from participating in athletic events that are designated for students whose gender is female, then the athletic association may adopt a policy to that effect; provided, however, that such policy shall be applied to all of the athletic association’s participating public high schools.”

Further, “Any high school that participates in, sponsors, or provides coaching staff for interscholastic sports events which are conducted under the authority of, conducted under the rules of, or scheduled by any athletic association that does not comply with the  provisions of this Code section shall forfeit its allotted [QBE] funding provided for under this article.”

What that means is, if the majority of the board does not want a transgender student–specifically, a male-to-female student–to play on a public or private school sports team, and the school allows that student to play anyway, the oversight board has the power to strip away thousands of dollars from each student’s education in that school.

Not from the transgender student’s education. From all the students’ education.

That could be $3,611,20 to $5,054.48 taken away for each full-time elementary school student, $3,174.09 for each full-time middle school student, and $2,789.66 per full-time high school student.

Clayton County is Georgia’s fifth largest school district and one of the 100 largest school systems in the nation, with more than 52,000 students.

Chanel Haley lives in Clayton County and serves on both TransAction and the School Board District 8 Advisory Committee.

“As a Clayton County resident, taxpayer, Clayton County BOE Advisory Committee member for District 8, policy expert, and adult woman of the transgender experience, I find it unfortunate that the GA General Assembly decided to attack transgender youth,” she told The Clayton Crescent. “Which is a small, vulnerable group. The state should look at Title IX because the attack puts ALL federally funded school age youth athletics in jeopardy. It is my hope that when this newly formed ‘commission’ meets, they weigh and follow federal guidance.”

Grief, sadness, anger

The last-minute move drew tearful pleas from several House members, whose calls for a floor discussion were ignored. The House voted 99-69 to adopt amendment 59-0069 to HB 1084.

Rep. Matt Wilson (D-80. Brookhaven), who is gay, said the bill “now has a transgender sports ban on line 70,” adding its passage was inconsistent with the House’s theme of promoting mental health for Georgia. He said the bill “targets the most vulnerable,”  trans youth, placing Georgia “on the wrong side of history” and opening the state to litigation.

Rep. Rebecca Mitchell (D-106, Snellville), who is a mother of four, said that Georgia parents “value skills and camaraderie from sports and children participating, and parents in this body understand they want own children to be fulfilled in K-12 ed and come out the other end alive…parents of trans kids know the risk for this simple ask are higher than for the rest of our community.” She added that the amendment deserved a floor debate so that transgender youth “will understand that some of us are out here fighting for them and value them.”

Rep. Park Cannon (D-58, Atlanta), who identifies as queer, said that it was “a shame this bill only targets male to female transition and is consistent with the GOP’s obsession with kids going through medical transition…I am ashamed of this House.”

Rep. Becky Evans (D-83, Atlanta), who has expressed support for transgender people, told the chamber, “If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it twice, I’ve heard it five times, I’ve heard it 10 times: parents know what is best for their kids and should have the choice as to how kids participate in school…this amendment flies directly in the face [of that].”

House Speaker David Ralston said, “I appreciate the passion around this issue… this is not a rally.”

The House then voted 98-71 to adopt the Senate substitution as amended by the House.

Cannon offered a motion to reconsider, which failed 70-99.

No one commented in favor of the bill.

 

Reaction was swift:

A decade in the making

Similar bills were introduced in 20 states in 2020, according to the American Civil Liberties Union: “For years state lawmakers have pushed legislation attempting to shut trans people out of public spaces. In 2020, lawmakers zeroed in on sports and introduced 20 bills [including HB 401 in Georgia that session] seeking to ban trans people from participating in athletics. These statewide efforts have been supported through a coordinated campaign led by anti-LGBTQ groups that have long worked to attack our communities.”

According to a 2013 newsletter, GHSA has been considering proposals to develop a policy on transgender athletes for at least the past decade.

In March 2021, GHSA Executive Director Dr. James R, Hines wrote that he had been pushing state lawmakers to pass such a ban: “As of this writing, the Georgia General Assembly is at the halfway point of this year’s session. Ernie Yarbough and I have spent quite a bit of time in Atlanta attending committee meetings and meeting with our elected representatives and I believe our relationship with both the House and Senate is the best that I’ve seen in my tenure at the GHSA. Both sides have really worked to find common ground on the issues that affect our Association and I’m grateful for the collaboration. There are several bills currently working their way through the process. HB 276 is a bill that would prevent transgender girls from competing in girls competition. This has been a big issue throughout the country as transgender girls (born as biological males) have won numerous track championships in Connecticut. HB 276 would allow only athletes born female to compete in girl sports. The GHSA does not want to discriminate against any group but wants the competition to be level and recognizes the physiological differences in males and females in terms of strength, speed and size. The GHSA supports this bill.”

The following month, Hines wrote, “There have also been transgender bills in both the senate and the house designed to prevent biological males to compete in girls sports. This has become a hot political topic and I don’t believe anything will be passed this session, although anything is possible. The current GHSA policy regarding gender is that the GHSA accepts the gender determination provided by the local school district.”

Hines did not mention that male-to-female transgender athletes do not universally have greater strength and speed than their cisgender competitors.

Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said, “Everything about this legislation and the way it was passed demonstrates an intent by Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican legislative leaders to evade accountability for hurting Georgia’s transgender youth.

“By amending this bill on the last day of the session to focus on transgender students, they prevented the people actually impacted from speaking out as to why this is wrong. By passing it after midnight, they evaded immediate scrutiny for taking a shameful vote. And by punting the decision to a newly created athletics committee, they get to pretend their hands are clean once specific, discriminatory policies are put into place.

“Make no mistake — there is no crisis with transgender youth playing sports in Georgia. Decades of experience in states across the country show that this is a non-issue. Self-serving politicians, catering to an extreme portion of their party’s base, are showing that they’re willing to harm vulnerable kids who just want to play with their friends. If Governor Kemp signs this bill, he will be marking himself once again as someone willing to harm a vulnerable LGBTQ+ population — in this case, children — to serve his own political ambitions.”

The vote took place about the same time that a candlelight vigil was being held in Piedmont Park for Kathryn Newhouse, 19, of Cherokee County, an Asian-American transgender woman who police say was shot by her father, who then turned the gun on himself.


Resources

If you are an LGBTQ+ youth in crisis who needs to speak with someone, contact the Trevor Project at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Learn how to be an ally for transgender and nonbinary youth

Learn more about the psychological impact of transgender sports bans

Read the Transgender Law and Policy Institute’s “Guidelines for Creating Policies for Transgender Children in Recreational Sports”


Our coverage

WATCH: Georgia Senate takes up anti-trans athlete bill

BREAKING: GA Senate bans trans girls, women in school sports

 

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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