LANSING, Mich. — A Republican-sponsored bill in Lansing aims to make high school athletes only play alongside those with the same biological sex. Democrats meanwhile are calling the controversial bill an attack on transgender youth.
On Tuesday, the Michigan Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee held a hearing into the bill. “SB-218 is rather simple: while in high school, if you choose to play a sport, your birth gender will identify whether you play on a male or a female team, if the school has designated the team as male or female,” said bill sponsor Sen. Lana Theis (R–Brighton).
Theis says it’s a competitive advantage for transgender athletes to play as the gender they identify as.
“It's unfair and, in some cases, unsafe. This is above all a matter of fairness and ensuring that there's an equal playing field for every athlete,” Theis said.
It mirrors a push from Republican state lawmakers in dozens of states to ban transgender girls from competing in high school girls' sports. A state representative from Idaho who pushed forward a similar bill in her state spoke in support of the bill at the Michigan hearing.
“I am a representative in the great state of Idaho and the one who first authored the Fairness in Women's Sports Act, first of its kind to pass in the nation and obviously has seen a great deal of legislatures such as yours, and states take up this legislation and and take up this cause, which I think is absolutely necessary," Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt said.
Other witnesses who spoke in support, argued the bill would protect female athletes.
“Women's sports have always suffered, but never has an issue of having boys and men compete as women is as destructive and will completely destroy women's sports,” former USA cyclist Mary Higgins said.
However, Democratic lawmakers call the legislation unnecessary and an attack on transgender students.
“I was a teacher before this, and I was the co-advisor of our Gay-Straight Alliance, and the transgender kids that I knew wanted nothing to do with sports, really. They just wanted to walk through the halls and be accepted,” Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D–Livonia) said.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Polehanki added.
Michigan has roughly 180,000 student-athletes, and in the past five years, only 10 transgender students sought waivers to play sports as the gender they identify as.
Some argue excluding trans students from participating on their team of choice would be harmful.
“Playing sports is an excellent way for these young people to form supportive relationships, be part of a team and engage in physical activity. Exclusion from high school sports will have a direct negative impact on the health and well-being of transgender young people and will only add to the marginalization that they may be experiencing at school,” Detroit-area pediatrician Dr. Maureen Connolly said in opposition to the bill.
Tuesday's committee hearing ended without the bill moving forward, but it could be up for another committee hearing soon and a potential vote in the full Senate later this week.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association recently called the bill “unnecessary,” saying they have a policy in place that allows them to work with schools and families on a person-to-person basis.