Bill seeks to prevent transgender females from competing in girls, women's sports
LGBTQ advocacy groups decry the legislation as harmful to youth
AZTEC — A group of Republican legislators have introduced a bill that would require transgender girls and women to compete in sports as men or boys.
Opponents of the bill, including LGBTQ advocacy group Equality New Mexico, say that it is based on outdated science and is not only anti-transgender but is also misogynistic toward girls and women.
A spokesperson for the governor issued a statement calling the bill a "harmful and discriminatory proposal."
The Women's Sports Protection Act, or House Bill 304, is sponsored by top ranking House Republicans like House Minority Leader Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, and House Minority Whip Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, as well as Rep. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso, Rep. Rachel Black, R-Alamogordo, and Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park.
The bill starts by declaring that there are only two biological sexes and that a person's biological sex is determined at conception. It further states that there are inherent biological differences between males and females, including anatomical differences. These differences, according to the legislation, lead to a sports performance gap between male and female athletes.
According to proponents of such legislation, the biological differences between males and females makes it unfair to allow transgender women and girls to compete in sports as the gender they identify with rather than the one they were assigned at birth.
“Every student has the right to fair and safe participation in sports, and single-sex athletic leagues are an important part of that," Cook said in a statement. "The Women’s Sports Protection Act reflects the protections voters in New Mexico want to preserve the rights of women and girls, and I’m proud to have the support of many women’s organizations behind this legislation. I hope that Governor (Michelle Lujan) Grisham will join us in passing this bill to ensure equal opportunity for all students."
The bill is supported by groups like Women’s Liberation Front, Save Women’s Sports, Women’s Human Rights Campaign USA, and LGB Alliance USA, according to a joint statement.
According to the emailed statement, the bill will protect the social and educational gains women and girls have made in New Mexico by preventing 'gender identity' policies that would eliminate single-sex sports. The statement highlights that participation in athletics leads to lower rates of teen pregnancy, increases academic success, boosts self-confidence and helps women with long-term career achievement.
Proponents claim that allowing transgender athletes to compete in the women or girls category creates a risk of a unisex sports environment that would deny women and girls the opportunity to compete in fair and safe athletic competitions.
“Feminists fought for Title IX and legal protections for women and girls — Now, we are standing up to protect those rights," said Natasha Chart, the executive director of Women's Liberation Front, in the emailed statement. As a vital piece of legislation, the Women's Sports Protection Act will ensure that the gains of women and girls in New Mexico over the past decade are not lost to the trend of regressive ‘gender identity’ policies.”
M. Lynette Hartsell, a spokesperson for the LGB Alliance USA, argued in a statement that the legislation will help young lesbian and bisexual athletes.
“Sports have been incredibly important for the LGB community," Hartsell said. "While all of us can enjoy recreational sports or spectating, competition in elite sports serves a crucial role for LGB people, especially among women. Elite sports have been a source of inspiration because of the visibility of role models like Martina Navratilova, and elite sports have been a place where students can first begin building bonds with other young lesbian and bisexual women. The opportunities sports can open up are especially important to lesbians because we know that lesbians are among the most economically disadvantaged people in this country, and sports can be a pathway to economic success, beginning with the opportunities of college. LGB Alliance USA supports HB 304 because it protects this important pathway for women and girls.”
Opponents say bill takes NM backwards
Marshall Martinez, interim executive director of Equality New Mexico, said the bill treats women and girls as if they have a uniform size and shape. As transgender people look like the gender they identify with, Martinez argued that the bill could lead to false claims against women and girls who have a body shape that is considered less feminine.
He said the bill would take New Mexico back decades and would instruct young people to discriminate against each other.
Adrien Lawyer, co-director and co-founder of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, said one of the questions his group has for the sponsors is what the logistical process would be for determining the athlete's biological gender. He questioned if athletes would be tested to determine their chromosomes or if they would be forced to undergo a genital examination.
He said the New Mexico Activities Association already requires students to participate based on the gender listed on their birth certificate, however recent changes in state law have made it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates to reflect the gender they identify as.
"I don't think this bill will get any traction in our state, but it horrifies me to see these kinds of bills getting introduced because they target the most vulnerable group within a very vulnerable group, which is transgender children," Lawyer said.
Similar legislation introduced in states across the nation
Similar legislation has been making strides in several conservative states this year, including North Dakota, Utah, Montana and Mississippi. The legislation has also been introduced in Tennessee, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Texas and others.
Many states moving similar bills
This effort is not new. Seventeen states had some form of legislation introduced last year attempting to prohibit transgender youth from competing as women or girls if that was not the gender they were assigned at birth, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Most of those bills did not go far, but Idaho's bill was signed into law.
The legislation can be traced back to a trio of conservative groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and the Family Policy Alliance.
Rep. Montoya is a former student of the Family Policy Alliance's Statesmen Academy. According to the group's website, the Statesmen Academy seeks to "seed the political system with well-trained Christian legislators to advance our vision of a nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive and life is cherished."
LGBTQ advocacy groups says the bill does not reflect New Mexico values
Martinez said the bill does not reflect New Mexico values and is rooted in misogyny and sexism.
"It's an attempt to misrepresent science to back up the philosophy of power and political views of a minority in New Mexico and frankly in this country," he said.
He said it upholds a notion that women are weaker and less talented than men.
"We don't believe this is true," he said.
Lawyer said the legislation could have harmful impacts on the mental health of transgender youth, who are already at greater risk than their cis-gender — or non-transgender — peers.
He highlighted the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey which began asking about gender orientation in 2017. Lawyer said 3% of the students in the state identify as transgender or non-binary.
Among cis-gender middle school and high school students, 8% reported having tried to take their own lives. Meanwhile, 32% of students who identify as transgender reported past suicide attempts.
Sports can be a positive outlet that helps with mental health, but Lawyer said being asked to compete as a gender that you don't identify with can take a heavy toll on people. He encouraged cis-women to consider how they would feel if they were constantly being called "sir" or told that they were actually men.
Lawyer said there isn't some kind of conspiracy among transgender people to destroy female athletics.
At the college level, the National Collegiate Athletics Association allows transgender people to participate as the gender they identify as, after they have undergone a year of hormone replacement therapy.
For transgender women, this means taking a drug that suppresses testosterone while also taking estrogen.
Lawyer highlighted the On The Team report about transgender high school and college athletes. He said there is not much of a difference between genders in high school and middle school. At the college level, hormone replacement therapy can provide a level playing field.
Next steps for the legislation
The Women's Sports Protection Act has been referred to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Should it receive support of that committee, it will then go to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill is on the schedule to be heard in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Feb. 25. The committee meets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Martinez said he would encourage the lawmakers to listen to the voices of transgender people, especially youth, who will be speaking out against the bill.
Should it pass the House and the Senate, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community and would likely veto the bill.
"The governor fully supports LGBTQ+ New Mexicans, including trans youth, and I am confident this harmful and discriminatory proposal will not be implemented," said Nora Sackett, a spokesperson for the governor's office, in an emailed statement.
'I want her to be able to run without fear of anything'
New Mexico resident Jill Pitts has an elementary-school aged daughter who is transgender. She said the family began to suspect their child was transgender when she was two or three years old. After finding a drawing of stick people in the girl's journal, Pitts said that became more apparent.
The drawing had a boy and a girl stick figure. The girl was circled and had rainbows and the word yes. The boy had his eyes crossed out and the word no.
At the end of her first grade year, the girl said she wanted to wear her girl clothes to school.
"I always let her lead the discussion," Pitts said.
Pitts said she hopes her daughter can be accepted in school as she gets older and will be a hard worker with good friends. She said her dreams for her daughter are just like any other parent's dreams for their child.
"I would hope that she could do any sport that she chose," she said.
Right now, the girl loves to run and tells her mother that she just wants to run.
"I want her to be able to run without fear of anything," Pitts said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been amended to remove allegations that there are no female sponsors to the bill. An error with the legislative website did not show that there are two women legislators who have sponsored the bill.
It has also been amended to include the date of the first committee hearing.