Multiple bills this legislative session target sports participation among transgender youth

Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 6:52 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - For years, some Missouri lawmakers have been pushing to regulate youth sports, particularly among transgender women.

“At the moment, this early in the session, we follow all the bills that are filed so far, mostly in the Senate, because we know that Senate leadership has announced that solving the trans sports issue is one of their top priorities,” said Shira Berkowitz, Senior. Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for PROMO. “We’ve seen bills that say like, only trans boys cannot participate in sports, only trans girls cannot participate in sports.”

This year’s session presents a new challenge for advocacy and LGBTQ non-profit organizations like PROMO, as at least seven different bills already being proposed aim to target youth participation in sports based on gender at birth.

“We have, I think, the most egregious bill of all of them looks at saying that anybody who is a kindergartener through 12th grade can only play sports according to the gender that they were assigned when they were born, or that’s written on your birth certificate,” said Berkowitz.

That bill is SB 87, which is sponsored by Senator Ben Brown (R-26th District).

“Really, what it boils down to is it’s about serving and ensuring that young women have an opportunity to compete fairly and to compete without having a competitive disadvantage,” said Brown.

Otherwise known as one of the “The Save Women’s Sports Act” legislations moving through the Missouri legislature, this bill similarly prevents biological males from any form of participation in a female-only youth sport, and “no public school, private middle school, or private high school that has biological males playing women’s sports shall be eligible for any sums of money appropriated by the general assembly.”

“This bill is not at all about discriminating against anybody,” said Brown. “I harbor zero hostility or resentment towards anyone that wants to lead a different style than myself, this is just about preserving opportunities. It’s about my daughters and people like them that put everything into going out and training every day to get good at basketball, and you have the opportunity to earn scholarships and not compete at a disadvantage.”

18 states across the country have passed similar laws banning transgender students from participating in sports that align with their gender identity.

“These are quote-unquote solutions in search of a problem,” said Joanna Hoffman.

Hoffman is the Director of Communications for Athlete Ally, an organization that promotes equal access and participation in youth sports regardless of gender identity. She argues there is no proof that trans athletes take opportunities away from other students participating in the same sports.

“I think what’s really telling, especially when we look at this specific legislative session in Missouri, you see that there are more bills pre-filed regarding trans athletes than there are trans athletes competing,” Hoffman said.

Yet, several lawmakers continue to push for these bills to reach Governor Mike Parson’s desk, including Senator Mike Moon (R-29th District).

“It’s unfair for men; whether you have changed body parts or whether you have taken chemicals to alter your hormones, you’re still a man. and women should be offered the opportunity to compete against women,” Moon said.

After proposing similar legislation last session, he hopes his bill this year, SB 48, will pass. Unlike Brown’s, Moon’s bill does not restrict transgender women from participating in female sports until middle school and high school. Yet, he says his message aligns with those in the legislature who are making youth sports participation a priority this session.

“If MSHSAA is not going to protect the women’s competition in competitive sports, that’s why I’m here, and that’s why other legislators are doing the same thing,” said Moon.

However, Berkowitz argues lawmakers could be playing a dangerous game by restricting certain young kids’ access to sports.

“Trying to put a regulation on kids having fun is probably the most dangerous thing,” they said. “It keeps kids from being able to thrive and being able to have opportunities to learn how to be a friend or how to have fun…or just how to be a leader if we’re talking about middle school or high school age student, and so I think it harms the mental health of trans youth and their validity in this state.”