Transgender boys and girls would be banned from playing on the school sports teams matching their gender identity under a bill passed Thursday by the Georgia Senate.
Senate Bill 435 passed on a 34-22 vote, sending it to the House for more debate.
The party-line vote came after a tearful appeal from Democratic Sen. Sally Harrell of Atlanta, who for the first time publicly told her colleagues that she has a transgender child.
“I’m the mother of a trans child, and it’s hard to stand up here and say that because it hurts. It really, really hurts,” Harrell said. “Let’s not move so fast, because this is hurting our kids.”
The measure pushed by conservative groups would ban people born as males from competing for girls teams and would ban people born as females from competing for boys teams. It would cover public school interscholastic and intramural teams, as well as the same teams for private schools that compete against public schools.
Republicans said transgender girls have an unfair advantage because they were born as stronger males and those born as girls will be denied places on the team or the podium if playing against transgender girls.
“Forcing girls to play against biological boys inhibits the ability of young girls to win competitions, achieve scholarships and achieve the highest level of success,” said Sen. Marty Harbin, a Tyrone Republican sponsoring the measure.
Similar measures never reached floor votes in the House or Senate last year, but proponents are trying again this year, with an endorsement by Gov. Brian Kemp in his State of the State speech. It’s one of a number of conservative education bills being pushed by Republicans in a election year, including proposals to ban the teaching of “divisive” racial concepts, to enumerate rights of parents and to challenge material parents find objectionable.
Democrats warned that transgender children are already vulnerable to suicide and that excluding them could only lead more to harm themselves.
“Ostracizing vulnerable children to get votes is despicable,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat. “More than that — it’s pathetic.”
The bill says that the sex listed on a child’s birth certificate will determine whether the child can compete with boys or girls. Girls could play on boys teams and boys could play on girls teams if there is no equivalent sport offered for a girl at the school. Complaints could be made to a each school district’s athletic coordinator. A student or parent could sue in Superior Court if they disagreed with the district’s ruling.
Opponents warn that the move could violate Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, an executive order signed by Democratic President Joe Biden that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere, as well as rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
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