Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced this week that allowing transgender female athletes to compete against women in schools sports would “destroy women’s sports” as controversial legislation deeming the practice “unfair” advances.
Lee made the statement after a bill gained steam which would mean that middle and high school athletes must only compete against athletes under the gender which had been assigned to them at birth, arguing that the boys are often physically more advanced than girls and that allowing the athletic mixing of people of different biological sexes could lead to avoidable injuries.
The legislation would in effect ban middle and high schoolers in the state under assumed genders from taking part in sports.
The debate is the latest in a string controversial legislative moves, some of which met a dead end last year in both of Tennessee’s chambers amid criticism that it discriminates against transgender children.
Proponents of the bill say, however, say that it is ultimately designed to promote fairness and gender equality in sports.
“The bill is discriminatory in and of itself, but it’s also misleading,” said Chris Sanders, Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director.
“They are not providing a path for everyone to play, they are picking a group of people and trying to find a way to sit them out.”
Debate amped up early in the Joe Biden administration after the United States president issued an executive order which bars gender discrimination on the basis of gender identity, essentially mandating that children be allowed compete athletically under any chosen gender.
“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” the Biden administration said in part.
However, Governor Lee is among those who have pushed back against the executive order, describing it as another example of federal overreach.
“Transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports,” Lee said. “It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships. It will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there.“
Sanders, though, isn’t buying it and described the legislation as being “demeaning” to Tennessee’s transgender community.
“How a small group of transgender students are going to destroy women’s sports is baffling,” he said. “The governor needs to learn more about transgender people and engage directly with the community.“
The debate places both sides of the discussion, according to them at least, on similar ground of wanting to safeguard sports – with Gov. Lee backing the bill on the grounds of fairness and equality of opportunity for female athletes while, on the other side of the coin, its detractors bemoan the lack of opportunity for children who identify as being transgender.
“It’s a scientific fact males are much stronger (in their) upper body and in the big muscles of the body than the females are,” Tennessee Rep. Glen Casada said, adding that the bill is “based in science.”
“What we are doing here is attempting to protect the females who would compete as males in field hockey and wrestling and these other sports.”
Precedent shows, though, that the legislation might face federal opposition. In August, a similar debate was struck down when a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the state cannot disallow transgender girls from playing on female sports teams.