The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Thursday banning transgender middle school, high school and college girls and women from playing on women’s sports teams.
House Bill 3293 now returns to the House of Delegates, which will either accept or reject Senate changes. Among the Senate’s amendments was expanding the bill to affect colleges.
The House version of the bill affected only middle and high school sports under the supervision of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission. The SSAC regulates basketball, soccer, cross country and other sports.
Despite Republicans holding 23 of the 34 Senate seats, the bill passed by only 18-15.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, was absent, so there were only 10 Democrats present for the vote. All 10 voted no, and they were joined by Republican Sens. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall; Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha; Chandler Swope, R-Mercer; Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha; and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.
Takubo is the Senate majority leader and Weld is the Senate majority whip, so two of the four official Senate leaders voted against the bill. Takubo, Weld and Maroney expressed concern over the fact that the bill would affect colleges.
An NCAA rule dating to 2011 allows transgender female athletes to participate on women’s teams, but only after at least a year of testosterone-suppression treatment.
“So it’s a policy of inclusion after that year,” Weld said on the Senate floor Thursday. “This would be a policy that, at no point, becomes inclusionary at the higher education levels, so we would be against a policy at the NCAA.”
He said he worried that could mean ramifications for West Virginia college athletes in general.
“I couldn’t take any action here that would potentially put into jeopardy the hard work that our college athletes put into a season, because the NCAA, right or wrong, could say to WVU, West Liberty, Fairmont, Marshall, whomever, you’re no longer in the league, you can’t play in the game, or you’re not going to be a tournament host site,” Weld said. “They could. Now, I don’t agree with it, but they could.”
Among the groups opposing the bill are the West Virginia State Medical Association, the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the West Virginia Psychological Association and the West Virginia School Psychologists Association.
Democrats raised concern about discrimination against transgender students and students who could wrongly be accused of being transgender.
“What effect do you think that would have on a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old girl that might be a tomboy but a hell of an athlete, and an opposing player or parent of an opposing player challenges them, or somebody on the same team challenges them because she’s the star of the club and they want that person off of the club?” asked Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison. “What psychological effect do you think that’ll have on that child, on that poor girl?”
Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, asked: “When’s the last time you sat down and talked to the young people in this state? Are you still campaigning at the McDonald’s, having coffee in the mornings with our wonderful retired folks in our neighborhood, or are you talking to the kids? They want a more inclusive society.”
Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Brooke, spoke directly to Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. As president, Blair appointed Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, to lead the Senate Education Committee. Rucker chose to put the bill on that committee’s agenda.
“I’m surprised this bill is even running,” Ihlenfeld said. “I don’t have control over what hits committees, I don’t have control about what hits the floor, but you do, Mr. President, you could stop bills like this, if you cared enough to look to the future, if you really wanted 400,000 people to come here.”
Rucker defended the bill, saying it acknowledges that there’s a difference in physical ability between males and females.
“These athletic opportunities, these opportunities to be part of a team, these opportunities to shine, they make a difference in their lives forever,” Rucker said.
“This isn’t against anyone,” she said. “It is for — for the policy of helping our girls, helping our women have the opportunity. That is what Title IX was about.”
Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier and a pastor, brought up the high rate at which transgender children strongly consider killing themselves.
“Let’s err on the side of grace,” he said. “Let’s err on the side of inclusion.”
During debate in the House, Delegate Roger Conley, R-Wood, read from the Bible and said, “to believe that there is a man that thinks they should be a woman, or a woman that thinks they should be a man, is saying that my God made a mistake.”
“God does not make mistakes,” Baldwin said Thursday. “But we do all the time. Every person was made in the image of God, and God didn’t make a mistake when God did that. Every person is made in the image of God, and God compels us to love one another just as we’ve been loved. Even those who are different. I might go so far as to say: Especially those who are different.”