Bill limiting transgender student-athletes heads to Missouri House floor

Charles Dunlap
Columbia Daily Tribune

Legislation limiting which athletic teams a transgender student-athlete can compete for passed out of committee Thursday and now heads to the Missouri House floor.

House Joint Resolution 53 filed by Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, passed by a vote of 7-5 in the House Rules — Administrative Oversight Committee.

Basye filed his bill as an amendment to the Missouri Constitution.

If the bill makes it all the way through the legislative process, it would need Missouri voter approval to take effect.

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What does the bill say?

Basye describes the bill as addressing an issue of fairness, he said during a hearing last month in the House Emerging Issues Committee. When Basye introduced his bill, the way it was worded would prevent transgender athletes from participating on athletic teams that aligned with their gender identity and instead require them to participate in teams of their assigned birth gender. 

Transgender girls were assigned male at birth, while transgender boys were assigned female at birth. 

The bill as it is now written requires schools to designate athletic teams based on biological sex. Teams can be classified male, female or coed.

Sports designated for females, per the bill, would not allow participation by transgender girls. Transgender boys who previously participated on a female team and who have started their transition would have to participate on a coed team and would not be allowed to continue to participate on the female team.

Female student-athletes would be allowed to participate on teams designated as male, so long as there is not a comparable female team.

Changes to the bill also allow the Missouri General Assembly to expand the law to prevent lawsuits from being filed against school districts by transgender athletes seeking to play for a team that aligns with their gender identity.

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Basye said last month that allowing transgender girls to compete on a female team puts opposition at a disadvantage because there is a "biological male" on one of the teams. 

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to treat young ladies in that manner, to have them work hard in a competitive sport and then lose their opportunity to go on to the next level,” Basye said.

LGBTQ advocates disagree with Basye's assessment.

If a transgender girl is in the medical process of their transition, she is on the same playing field as other girls, but would definitely be at a disadvantage if forced to continue participating on a boys team, Tracy Davis said last month. She is a board member of the mid-Missouri LGBTQ resource organization The Center Project. 

"The nefarious nature of these bills lies in the knowledge that a trans woman who undergoes medical aspects of transition will have a distinct disadvantage participating in men's athletics," she said.

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Current Missouri State High School Activities Association policy allows transgender boys to participate in boys sports even if they are not taking hormones. Transgender girls are barred from participating in girls sports if they are not yet taking gender-affirming hormones or puberty blockers. Transgender youth can participate in coed sports.

For transgender boys who are receiving hormone treatment, they are allowed to compete on boys teams, but no longer are eligible to compete on girls teams.

Transgender girls can continue on boys teams for at least one year of hormone treatment before moving to girls teams, unless the team becomes coed, which means they can join that team sooner. They cannot participate on girls teams during the first year of hormone treatment. The transgender girl then must maintain documentation with the school about their hormone treatment and levels. 

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MSHSAA's policy is based on a similar policy by the NCAA. 

Anneliese Schaefer, during the Emerging Issues Committee hearing last month, introduced herself as the mother of a transgender female athlete. Basye's bill is unnecessary, she said, since MSHSAA already has a “very rigorous” policy.

Schaefer's daughter had to prove her gender identity and hormone treatment to participate on the girls team.

“This seems like a solution in search of a problem,” she said about Basye's bill.

Other legislation still pending in House

A separate House bill from Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, seeks to prevent health care providers from providing services to transgender youth. A public hearing was held March 10 on House Bill 33. Further action is not yet scheduled. 

Any physician who provides gender-affirming surgical or hormonal care could lose their license to practice medicine under the bill, and any parents who seek out gender-affirming care could be reported to the division of family services.

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If the bills were to pass in tandem, transgender youth would have to go through puberty without hormone blockers and thus would not be able to participate on a sports team that aligns with their gender identity.

The use of puberty blockers in transgender youth is reversible

"If you are denying care to transgender youth and saying, 'You have an advantage because we have denied you this care,' it puts us in a loop you can't escape from," Davis said last month about the bills. "With access to gender-affirming medical treatment, a trans woman is on the same athletic playing field as any cisgender woman."

Austin Huguelet of the Springfield News-Leader contributed to this report.