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Bill aims to regulate trans athlete participation

Bill aims to regulate trans athlete participation

A bill introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives would require middle and high school athletes to compete on the team of their sex assignment at birth. Last week lawmakers held a press conference in support of the legislation and multiple speakers cited an instance involving athletes in Macon and Cherokee counties to bolster their case.

“It would be unfair to our students if we ignored some of the biological realities that have measurable impacts on outcomes in sports,” said Sen. Kevin Corbin, R-Macon, during the press conference. “This bill sets out to fix those loopholes.”

House Bill 574

There are 30 sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, titled the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” including Corbin and reps. Karl Gillespie, (R-Macon), and Mark Pless, (R-Haywood). As it is currently written, the bill requires all teams to be expressly designated by the “biological sex” of the team’s participants — either male, female or coed.

The bill clarifies that athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls will not be open to students of the male sex, and that teams or sports designated for males, men or boys shall not be open to students of the female sex unless there is no comparable female team for a particular sport and the sport is not a contact sport. This would effectively ban female athletes from playing not only football, but also boxing, wrestling, rugby, ice hockey and basketball in places where female teams do not exist for those sports.

However, lawmakers claim that this language in the bill was a mistake and that it will be rewritten before it gets the chance to become law.

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“We actually noticed in reading through it that line 15 and 16 make it sound like girls would not be able to participate in sports like football and wrestling,” said Corbin. “That’s not our intent at all. We will amend that in the process. It’s not our intent at all to limit females for playing, it’s to limit biological males from playing female sports.”

Several lawmakers and speakers at last week’s press conference cited fairness and safety for female athletes as the bedrock of the bill.

“This is common sense legislation,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth). “It’s about ensuring fair competition in women’s sports.”

Sen. Vicki Sawyer (R-Mecklenburg), touted her experience and hard work as a high school athlete as reason for the legislation.  

“Those very sports that fostered and guided my development as a young woman are under attack,” said Sawyer. “When we talk about men identifying as a woman to play sports, we hear about how we are accommodating their feelings. But there’s a big part missing from that conversation, what about the women?”

The legislation lays out that a student’s sex shall be recognized based solely on the student’s “reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” According to Corbin, this would be determined by a person’s sex on their birth certificate.

“When you register for school, you have to show a birth certificate, so it’s based on that,” said Corbin.

In North Carolina, to change the sex designation on a birth certificate, residents are required to present a North Carolina Driver’s License or valid State ID card that reflects the corrected sex to which someone is requesting it be amended on the birth certificate. A person can also file a certification of gender identity form for birth certificate amendment. Once the state accepts the forms and makes the amendment official, the resident can get an updated birth certificate with the Register of Deeds Office or North Carolina Vital Records.

However, if an outside party were looking at the birth certificate of someone who has amended their sex on the document, that party would be able to tell that the gender marker was amended. Whenever a birth or death record is amended, there is a track record kept on each document for how a record changes over time. The document would say who it was amended by, date of the amendment and what field on the record was amended.

It is unclear whether lawmakers would be looking for the current gender marker of middle and high school athletes for eligibility, or proof that the gender has been amended.

NCHSAA rules

Rules currently in place under the North Carolina High School Athletic Association allow participation in interscholastic athletics for all students, regardless of gender or gender identification. Trans students who wish to participate on the team of their gender identification can undergo a process for eligibility on that team.

“The rules and regulations are intended to provide every student-athlete with equal opportunities to participate in athletics,” NCHSAA bylaws read.

According to NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker, the default rule is that students participate in sports based on the gender of their birth certificate, except if there is not a comparable sports team available for their gender. If there is a situation where a student identifies differently from the gender listed on their birth certificate, there is a waiver request form that must be filed together with the student’s guardians and the member school.

“Everything is initiated at the school level,” said Tucker. “A principal and his or her team determines whether or not this is a student who identifies differently, and they submit the completed form along with substantiating documentation, such as something from the parent, something from a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, any interventions that have occurred. We want the healthcare professionals to be involved. It has to be something that has been relatively ongoing.”

Once that request is filed, all the information goes to a gender identity committee, made up of doctors, school administrators, a member of the NCHSAA Board of Directors, a school psychologist and someone with experience in the area of transgender students. The committee reviews the information and makes a determination to either approve or deny the request.

According to Tucker, there have been 18 such waiver requests filed in the entire state of North Carolina since the policy was put in place in 2019. Of those, one was denied, and one was never completed. Therefore, Tucker says, we’re looking at 16 athletes that would have been eligible if they followed through and played the sport between 2019 and today.

However, if it passes, the legislation in House Bill 574 would do away with the process in place at NCHSAA.

Citing WNC athletes

Sawyer was one of the speakers who cited the situation between Cherokee and Macon County Schools earlier this school year during the press conference.

In September, Cherokee County Schools Board of Education voted 5-1 for all schools in the county to forfeit all remaining matches against Macon County’s Highlands School JV and Varsity volleyball teams. The board cited safety concerns in its motion as the reason for forfeiting. However, in minutes from the meeting, school board member Steve Coleman is recorded as having “addressed the safety concern for the female players facing a biological male player.” Additionally, board attorney Dean Shatley stated that based on his conversation with the president of the NCHSAA, “the president was not aware of any other injuries resulting from athletic play with a transgender athlete.”

The meeting minutes do not confirm that there is or was a transgender athlete competing on the Highlands High School volleyball team, but this did not stop speakers at last week’s press conference from citing the school board’s decision.

“You hear from some folks that there’s only a handful of athletes in North Carolina, that this isn’t a big deal,” said Sawyer. “Ask that young woman in Cherokee County if this is a big deal.”

Previous Chapel Hill High School basketball, volleyball and softball coach Sherry Norris also spoke in support of the legislation last week; she too used the case in Cherokee County as fodder.

“In the fall, when a six-foot male transgender athlete played on a team, he or she played at Highlands High School, went up and spiked the ball, it hit the female athlete from Hiwassee High School and knocked her to the floor,” said Norris.

When asked about supporters of the bill publicly citing unfounded reports of athletes from his district, Kevin Corbin said that’s not the genesis of this bill.

“I did not mention that particular situation, I personally didn’t want to point out any particular situation,” said Corbin. “That’s not why the bill was written.”

Regulating trans youth

HB 574 is one of six bills introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly this session that aim to regulate transgender youth. In addition to three bills that address trans athlete participation — HB 574 and its companion bill SB631 , as well as SB 636  — there are three senate bills that restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans youth — SB 560 SB 639  and SB 641 .

All are sponsored by Republican lawmakers who recently achieved a supermajority in the house after Representative Tricia Cotham switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

The issue of trans athlete participation in youth sports is also being addressed at the national level. Last week the Supreme Court heard a case regarding a West Virginia law barring transgender athletes from playing on female sports teams. A challenge to the law came from 12-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson, who wanted to compete on her middle school’s girls track team. The court did not reinstate the law, meaning that a lower court’s order putting a hold on the law will stay in place while legal battles continue.

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