The West Virginia Senate Education Committee advanced Thursday night a bill banning transgender middle school and high school students from playing on sports teams matching their gender identity.
The committee also proposed amending the bill to expand the ban to public college and university teams.
“Classification of teams according to biological sex is necessary to promote equal athletic opportunities for the female sex,” the proposed amendment states.
Senate Education’s voice votes to adopt the amendment and advance the bill Thursday, the first day it was on the committee’s agenda, came just a week after the House of Delegates passed the bill. This year’s regular legislative session ends next Saturday.
Republican supermajorities control both legislative chambers.
The House passed the bill 78-20, and no one was heard dissenting during the Senate Education voice votes.
LGBT-rights organization Fairness West Virginia opposes the bill, saying 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 also oppose it.
“Any discrimination based on gender identity or expression damages the socioemotional health of children, families and society,” said Dr. Lisa Costello, president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and vice president of the State Medical Association, in a Fairness West Virginia news release. “Transgender youth in West Virginia are at higher risk of suicide than their cisgender peers, and this bill will only further the discrimination transgender youth experience.”
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.
That version’s legality already was questioned by some Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.
These opponents noted the 2020 ruling from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers West Virginia, that upheld transgender students’ rights to use restrooms matching their gender identity. And they noted a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that firing someone for being gay or transgender violated part of the federal law called Title VII.
The ACLU and Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, have cited these court rulings in saying the bill also could violate Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in sports. They say that might jeopardize federal funding.
If the full Senate adopts its education commitee’s recommended amendment to expand the bill to colleges, NCAA policies also could come into play.
An NCAA rule dating back to 2011 allows transgender female athletes to participate on women’s teams, but only after at least a year of testosterone-suppression treatment.
“The NCAA continues to closely monitor state bills that impact transgender student-athlete participation,” the NCAA said in an email Friday. “The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport. The Association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion.”
Asked for West Virginia University’s stance on the bill, WVU Communications Executive Director April Kaull wrote in an email that the university “adheres to the policies set forth by the NCAA, including a policy that provides guidelines for trans athletes to participate in collegiate sports.”
Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the NCAA policy is a permissive one — so, she said, states aren’t required to allow transgender females on women’s teams.
“This law that we’re passing is in compliance with Title IX protections for women’s sports,” Rucker said.
NPR reported last month that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, sent a similar bill back to her state’s lawmakers for revisions, including ensuring that it doesn’t apply to college athletes. She cited the NCAA as a reason.
The Associated Press reported that the South Dakota bill has since died, and Noem has instead issued related executive orders, but the executive order was only a recommendation to colleges.