Education Kentucky Politics

A committee of state lawmakers moved forward a bill that would prevent transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams in K-12 schools. The measure, Senate Bill 83, from Henderson Republican Sen. Robby Mills would require girls teams to only be open to students who are listed as female on their birth certificate.

 

Mills told the committee the goal is to keep cisgender girls from competing with trans girls, who he referred to as “biological males.” Mills said trans girls have unfair advantage and could edge out cisgender girls in sports.

“It would be crushing for a young lady to train her whole career to have and end up competing against the biological male in the state tournament or state finals,” Mills told the committee.

Mills admitted he is not aware of any such situation playing out in Kentucky. But he pointed to rare examples nationally: University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a trans woman, has faced criticism for competing in the women’s division. He also pointed to a lawsuit filed by a cisgender high school girl in Connecticut who is suing over having to compete with two transgender girls in track.

“As legislators, we go to conferences every year and learn about trends and how we can address issues that are headed to our state. We are encouraged to think ahead based on other states’ experiences. Senate Bill 83 is thinking ahead,” Mills said.

The bill is similar to two others Republicans have filed this session and mirrors bills in at least 26 states across the country, according to the website Freedom for All Americans, which tracks anti-LGBTQ legislation. Several states have signed similar measures into law, including West Virginia and Idaho, where civil rights groups have filed discrimination lawsuits.

Jackie McGranahan with the ACLU of Kentucky says SB 83 violates Title IX, which grants federal protections from discrimination based on sex.

“Ultimately, this bill violates the United States Constitution and federal civil rights law, puts Kentucky at risk of potentially losing money in federal funds, and harms transgender youth—and all to solve a problem that plainly does not exist,” McGranahan told the committee.

Chris Hartman with the Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the legislation won’t change much for high school students, since the Kentucky High School Athletic Association already prohibits most transgender girls from participating in girls high school athletics. The KHSAA requires transgender girls to have undergone gender affirming surgeries and hormone therapy. Hartman says most high school students aren’t old enough to have received that medical treatment.

The bill would, however, affect girls in middle school and elementary school.

“You will harm our our youngest and our most vulnerable transgender kids—middle schoolers who do not deserve this level of unfair scrutiny,” Hartman told the committee.

Westport Middle School student Fisher Wells said she helped start her school’s field hockey team. But if this bill passes she won’t be able to play her 8th grade year.

“I really don’t want this bill to pass because that means I can’t play, and it will be extremely detrimental to my mental health as well,” Wells said.

Wells called the bill “disgusting.”

Her mother, Jennifer Alonzo, urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.

“Loving our kid is the most important, along with doing everything we can do to ensure that she’s treated the same way as everybody else—with dignity and respect for who she is. And that she’s included in all aspects of life and school,” Alonzo said, holding back tears.

“Fisher is not the best player, and our team loses more than we win,” Alonzo said, pushing back against the belief that trans girls have an unfair advantage. The real advantages, she said, are the friendships Fisher made and the teamwork she learned. 

A Breckinridge County 8-year-old named Cedar also came with her mother to testify. Cedar is a trans girl who wants to play on girls soccer and gymnastics teams when she gets a little older.

“Playing on a girls team is our right as a girl—not just my right—it’s all girls’ rights, because there are other trans girls out there like me,” Cedar told the committee.

Despite the testimony, lawmakers passed the measure 9-3 along partisan lines, with all three Democrats voting against. 

The measure now heads to the Senate floor.

Whether or not the bill is ultimately passed, Chris Hartman worries the conversation around the issue will have lasting impacts on transgender youth’s sense of belonging and self-esteem.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.