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New Texas Law Targets Trans Athletes

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

While most of the country’s attention on Texas lawmaking is focused, understandably so, on the state’s recent adoption of a controversial abortion law that grants enforcement of the law to private citizens, Texas also recently passed another law that has serious implications on the civil rights of its citizens. On October 25th, Governor Greg Abbott officially signed House Bill 25 into law. The caption text of the law describes its purpose as “requiring public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competition based on biological sex.”[1] Interestingly enough, the University Interscholastic League (“UIL”) – a governing body for athletics in public primary and secondary schools in the state of Texas – already adopted rules governing participation in sports based on “gender.”

Section 360(h) of the existing UIL rules provides that gender is “determined based on a student’s birth certificate” or other similar government identification documents[2] for purposes of participating in athletics. The UIL did, however, accept amended birth certificates, which provided greater opportunities for transgender athletes to participate in sports in the state.[3] Texas’ new law goes one step further in an attempt to prevent transgender athletes from participating in sports: it expressly states that “a statement of biological sex . . . is considered to have correctly stated the student’s biological sex only if the statement was . . . entered at or near the time of the student’s birth” and forbids the amendment of a birth certificate unless done so to correct a scrivener or clerical error.[4] Per the text of the law, its purpose is as follows: “to further the governmental interest of ensuring that sufficient interscholastic athletic opportunities remain available for girls to remedy past discrimination on the basis of sex.”[5]

But that stated purpose seems disingenuous given there were already rules on the book that the UIL was promulgating to further this same purpose. What the law is really getting at is the prevention of transgender athletes from participation in athletics based on their identified gender. It restricts students from participating in any interscholastic athletic competition “designated for the biological sex opposite to the student’s biological sex” and eliminates the previously available option of amending a birth certificate to allow, for example, a transgender athlete who has transitioned from male to female to play on the women’s high school basketball team rather than the men’s high school basketball team.[6] In multiple instances, the text of the law refers to biological sex as being “correct” only if stated on a student’s birth certificate at or near the time of birth. What this insistence on someone’s “correct” biological text shows is that the law is about promulgating a certain set of beliefs onto all citizens of the state of Texas – enough state leaders felt that “biological sex” or “gender” was fixed at birth, and could not be a fluid, changing concept, that they worked tirelessly to pass a law signaling to transgender individuals that the Texas legislature does not recognize them for who they are and wants to prevent them from experiencing athletics like any other citizen of Texas would be able to do. It is sad, but no surprise, that this law is just one of nearly 70 “anti-LGBTQ” bills that Texas lawmakers have proposed in the last year.[7]

Fortunately, Texas’ narrow view of transgender athletes is not a view adopted across the United States, although it has, unfortunately, been promulgated by many state legislators.[8] The National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) has previously stated that it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports” as part of its values of “inclusion and fair competition.”[9] Hopefully more states take cues from the NCAA and work to create even greater opportunities for transgender students to participate in athletics and benefit from the opportunities for personal growth, leadership development, understanding, and self-esteem that athletics provides to so many students.

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