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Companion bill to transgender-athlete restriction sent to governor

by Rachel Herzog | April 22, 2021 at 3:54 a.m.

A bill that would add another enforcement mechanism to the state law's restriction on participation in school sports for transgender girls and women was sent to the governor by the Arkansas House on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 450 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, gives Arkansas' attorney general a cause of action against schools that knowingly allow athletes assigned the male sex at birth to participate on female sports teams.

The bill passed in a 74-17, party-line vote.

Last month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law Act 461, which gives student athletes "deprived of athletic opportunity" by a school not maintaining separate teams for cisgender female students a private cause of action.

Supporters of the legislation say it ensures fairness in female sports, arguing that cisgender girls and women are physically outmatched by athletes assigned the male sex at birth, though they have acknowledged there has not been an instance of or a complaint about transgender participation in sports in Arkansas.

House sponsor DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, described SB450 as a companion to Act 461 and said it gives the attorney general "the right to go to the school and investigate if something's turned in."

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, announced her support for SB450 at a news conference in February, days before Irvin announced the legislation that became Act 461 as part of the Republican Women's Legislative Caucus' legislative package.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature at arkansasonline.com/legislature]

Both pieces of legislation go further than athletic organizations' existing standards for transgender participation. The NCAA allows transgender athletes on female teams after one year of testosterone-suppressing hormone treatment. The Arkansas Activities Association, which oversees kindergarten-through-12th-grade sports in the state, requires that students participate on teams aligning with the sex listed on their birth certificates, though the rules allow a changed birth certificate to be accepted.

House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, said SB450 is unnecessary because the attorney general can already litigate any matter, adding that the measure "only serves to discriminate against a minority."

"Athletics are a valuable experience where student-athletes gain physical, mental, team and leadership skills," McCullough said. "There is room for everyone."

McCullough, the only openly LGBTQ member of the Arkansas Legislature, said the measures put negative national attention on the state, referencing a recent statement from the NCAA. The organization said it would only hold events in locations that are inclusive of transgender athletes.

She also referenced a statement from Doug McMillon, president and CEO at Walmart, who said earlier this month that he was concerned with bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, said he was "tired of hearing people talk about how poor and bad we are" and being "threatened" by organizations and corporations that say the state will lose business and sports tournaments if it doesn't "bow" to what they want.

"We need to decide what we want to do, not what these national organizations or these international companies want to do," Ladyman said.

More than 20 states in 2021 have considered bills that would restrict transgender participation in sports, according to The Associated Press. Arkansas became the second state this year to sign one into law, after Mississippi. Tennessee's governor signed that state's law last month.

Idaho passed such a law in 2020, but that measure has been barred from taking effect by a court order.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil-rights organization, the sports bills are among more than 100 measures that have been introduced in state legislatures this year that would affect transgender people.

Arkansas became the first state to enact a ban on gender-affirming medical treatment for minors, over the governor's veto, earlier this month.

Later on Wednesday, a bill stating that Arkansas teachers wouldn't be required to address students by a name or pronoun inconsistent with their biological sex failed in the Senate Education Committee.

Transgender-rights advocates and mental health professionals who spoke against the bill said it would negatively affect transgender youths by allowing teachers to misgender or "deadname" them.

Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, said the bill aims to protect the First Amendment rights of teachers and that students were changing their gender identity two or three times a year.

With six of the committee's eight members present, House Bill 1749 failed in a divided voice vote.

Print Headline: School sports bill sent to governor

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