EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Despite defeat in the House, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a special session to revive Senate Bill 29 (SB 29), which would ban trans youth access to sports by requiring K-12 athletes to participate in UIL athletics based on their gender assigned at birth.
“What’s worse than making a kid question who they are as a person?” asked Brenda Risch, Executive Director at the Borderland Rainbow Center.
SB 29 is one of a series of anti-LGTBQ+ bills proposed in this session and corresponds with the passage of similar bills in states like Florida. So far this year, 34 states are pursuing legislation that would ban transgender girls from participating in interscholastic sports.
Proponents of SB 29 argue that transgender student athletes have an unfair advantage by playing to their gender identity rather than gender assigned at birth, despite peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary.
“Most of these bills intentionally misgender trans girls, referring to them as ‘biological males,’” writes researcher and former NCAA Division I coach and athlete Elizabeth Sharrow.
Some of the most controversial bills claim that transgender girls have an unfair advantage when it comes to strength that scholars say is not medically accurate.
“Peer-reviewed science does not support these claims,” continues Sharrow. “Rather, it finds that athletic performance results from a complex interaction of many factors, not just hormones or chromosomes. For example, not all men can defeat all women in all sports contests, as you can see at the finish line of a local 5k road race.”
Risch said that perpetuating false claims about transgender youth (and adults) accelerates bias.
“That stuff is even more mythological and based on freakish fantasies about trans girls being heroically strong,” said Risch.
Four bills targeting trans youth athletes were defeated in the Texas House this session. Patrick requested that Abbott convene a special session Tuesday night to revive SB 29 after it was blocked before Tuesday’s midnight deadline.
“Some are trying to end the game before the time clock has run out. There’s still time remaining for the House and Senate to work together to get important conservative legislation to my desk,” said Gov. Abbott in a statement sent to KTSM. “Members in both chambers need to be spending every minute of every day to accomplish that mission.”
This isn’t the first time Patrick has sought gubernatorial intervention when it comes to pushing legislation that would restrict the lives of LGTBQ+ people across Texas. Patrick attempted to force a special session in 2017 to pass a bill that would regulate lavatory usage for transgender people across Texas.
“It’s just another reiteration of attacks against the transgender community, attempting to marginalize trans people and attempting to create a problem where one simply does not exist,” said Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist for LGBTQ Equality at the ACLU of Texas.
In states like Florida, bills banning transgender girls from participating in UIL sports allow coaches to perform unsupervised genital exams if the coach suspects the athlete of being transgender.
“The most egregious and horrifying thing about this bill is that it would allow non-medical school personnel, like coaches and assistant principals to do genital exams on children with no witnesses present,” said Risch.
The CDC reports that members of the LGTBQ+ community experience sexual violence and assault at higher rates than cisgender people.
The ambiguity of SB 29’s language has constituents concerned about whether students would be subject to genital exams like in Florida.
“That was our fear all along — the enforcement mechanism — of these sports bills and none of these were outlined in the legislation, leaving it open to whoever was interpreting it,” said Perez.
Perez, Risch and other opponents of the bill say not prohibiting unsupervised genital exams exposes athletes — not just transgender athletes — to potential sexual assault.
“What if they think your kid is transgender?” asked Risch. “This isn’t about who is transgender. This is about who they think is transgender.”