When State Rep. Philip Singleton introduced a bill last year to ensure that only “biological females” could compete in sports that are specifically for females only, the bill went nowhere and didn’t garner a single co-sponsor, according to legislative records.
But Singleton’s new bill, which has a similar focus, has gained over 38 co-sponsors. A press conference on the bill was held Thursday at the state capitol. Behind the speakers, arranged on the capitol’s marble staircase, were young female athletes from schools around the state, including many from Coweta.
This year’s bill, House Bill 276, is simpler than last year’s and only applies to public schools and universities – and only to sports teams or competitions that are specifically designated as only for females or only for males. Under the bill, no public school or university, or private school which competes against public schools, can allow someone who was born as a male to compete in sports that are designated for females only. Last year’s bill applied to any organization using public fields, and limited participation in both female and male sports.
“This bill is much more simple. It doesn’t have a lot of the mechanisms for enforcement at the state level,” Singleton said. “This one is laser focused on protecting girls sports.”
Singleton said at the press conference that no one there is concerned about how someone chooses to identify their gender. “We believe every single athlete should have the opportunity to compete and there is no place for identity politics or discrimination of any type in sports,” he said.
Singleton said that when he introduced the bill last year, “no one believed me that it was an issue.” Currently, the Georgia High School Association doesn’t allow transgender students to play on single-sex sports teams that don’t match their biological sex at birth. The NCAA allows trans women to play on women’s teams after at least a year of testosterone suppressing therapy.
The International Olympic Committee allows trans athletes to compete if they meet testosterone levels, though that policy is likely to be reviewed. No trans athletes have competed in the Olympics, though three, including a powerlifter and volleyball player, were expected to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. The Olympics were delayed because of COVID-19 and are set for this summer.
Singleton said he explained to people he was trying to be preemptive. “The typical response was – it’s a solution without a problem. Now this year, they are going, ‘Oh my gosh, why didn’t we do something last year?’” he said.
Singleton said there has been an overwhelming response of support within the House Republican caucus.
“We easily have enough support to pass the bill. If we can get it to the House floor, it will pass,” he said.
One impetus for support appears to be a recent executive order from President Joe Biden emphasizing that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last year that found that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity amounts to discrimination on the basis of sex and, as such, is prohibited by law. The order includes a statement that “children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room or school sports.”
Singleton said Thursday that Biden, “has already started walking back the executive order, because he has gotten push back from major athletic organizations … saying that is not fair.”
At the press conference, some speakers talked about the great lengths that women have gone to get equal treatment in sports, and how allowing those who were born male, and therefore have larger bones, larger lungs, larger hearts and other competitive advantages is keeping female athletes from being able to achieve all they are capable of.
Before the Title IX civil rights law for quality in education was passed, only 1 in 27 school girls participated in athletics, Singleton said. Today, it’s nearly 2 in 5. Studies have shown girls who play sports are less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, less likely to be depressed, more likely to get better grades and more likely to graduate, he said. They also have a lower risk of breast cancer, higher self esteem and less social anxiety. Athletic competition teaches children and teens the power of preparation, the pain of defeat and the empowerment of success.
By ignoring the biological reality that males have certain physical advantages over females, “girls are losing medals, podium spots, scholarships and opportunities to compete,” Singleton said.
Connecticut trans athletes dominate women’s running
In Connecticut, where trans athletes have been allowed to compete in high school sports teams matching their gender identity since 2017, two trans women have dominated girl’s track and field. They have won over 15 women’s track titles. Those titles were formerly held by nine different female athletes, Singleton said.
“Because of this policy, girls have lost over 85 opportunities for higher levels of competition.” The two trans athletes hold 17 individual records in the state, Singleton said. “Records biological females have very little hope of ever beating. Allowing biological males to compete in girls sports spells the end of girls sports.”
In 2019, several female runners in Connecticut filed a complaint over the state’s policy, saying it violated Title IX. The complaint states the policy “has denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits,” according to NBC Connecticut.
Before Title IX
Rep. Karen Mathiak
Rep. Karen Mathiak grew up before Title IX. “I knew what it was like to not be able to practice a sport I enjoyed because we never had a field, we didn’t have the equipment – whatever the excuse was,” she said. Title IX ensured she and others would have equal chances to play sports.
Rep. Sheri Gilligan also grew up when women didn’t have the same access to sports. “But I believed that Title IX was for me, that I would compete, that I had every opportunity that my brothers had,” she said. “That is why we are here asking for a level playing field for all Georgians, and especially for our female athletes.” Most sports teams are divided by gender and age, and others are divided by weight class and other criteria.
“We need to protect female athletes so that our young ladies can be all that they are intended to be,” she said.
A level playing field?
Rep. Jodi Lott said she lettered in four separate sports. “The only reason I was able to do that was because I was able to compete with those that are my gender. I know many of you know the males have an advantage over us and even the fastest female could usually not beat our slower cross-country male runners,” she said.
Having a level playing field is very important. “We don’t want to start something we know we’re going to lose,” she said. Female athletes work hard and “we want to give them these opportunities and be sure they have the opportunity to shine.”
Rep. Josh Bonner
Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Peachtree City, said allowing athletes who were born male to compete on girl’s teams automatically puts those girls at a disadvantage. “It robs our sisters and daughters of the opportunities to compete, win and achieve their dreams.” His daughter plays soccer, and he said he can’t imagine having to tell her that no matter how hard she works, if she has to play against a biological male she will always be at a disadvantage.
“Science and common sense tell us that biological males on the field of play have an absolute advantage over females,” Bonner said.
Rep. Todd Jones brought his daughter, who is a pole vaulter, to the press conference. As parents, one of the best ways to teach your children is by letting them fail, he said. It’s one thing to fail when the field is level. “But it is another thing to fail when the field is tilted so far against you, failure is inevitable,” Jones said.
Critics argue the bill discriminates against transgender athletes and is just the latest move by conservative lawmakers and religious groups to trample on LGBTQ rights.
"This is a shameful attack on Georgia’s transgender youth and young adults,” said Georgia Equality spokeswoman Shannon Clawson, according to Capitol Beat News. “The proposed legislation does nothing to protect or support girls’ sports, rather it serves only to spread hateful stereotypes and endangers children and their ability to fully participate in important extracurricular activities.”
Singleton called Clawson’s argument “a complete fabrication.”
“We want transgender athletes to be able to compete,” Singleton said, they just have to compete as the sex they were born as.
“A transgender athlete can identify any way they want to identify and compete. If they are transgender, they can have a long pony tail and wear a skirt and do all the other things that they would do to express their identify. But when they step onto the field – they compete with people who are biologically equivalent to them,” he said.
The bill doesn’t mention transgender athletes. “The bill is laser focused on women’s rights. Women have fought long and hard to have equal opportunities and rights to compete. To turn around and allow biological males to dominate in girls sports is wrong.”
Singleton said the issue isn’t about identity politics. “It’s not about psychology, it’s not about sociology. It’s about biology. There are biological differences between men and women,” Singleton said.
Even if a trans woman is taking hormones, “there are a tremendous amount of factors that will never change – their lung capacity, oxygenation of blood, bone structure, muscle mass – those are huge advantages,” Singleton said.
Famed cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles for taking drugs to enhance his performance, including his oxygen uptake.
“Men already have a much larger lung capacity than women. There is a logical train there that people aren’t following,” Singleton said. Allowing trans women to compete in women’s sports “defies everything we know about biology and everything we know about common sense.”