AUSTIN — For the fourth consecutive legislative session of 2021, social and religious conservatives are pressing to ban transgender Texans from competing in public school sports based on their gender identity.
Their persistent efforts have been vigorously opposed as cruel and unnecessary by LGBTQ advocates, progressive groups and influential state companies — a coalition that has managed thus far to fend off the sports bills and other measures directed at transgender Texans at the Legislature.
The opposing sides squared off once again Wednesday at the state Capitol, where a House committee took public testimony on House Bill 25 — which, like a similar measure already passed by the Texas Senate, would require public school athletes to compete in sports under the "biological sex" as listed on their original birth certificate.
By the time the public hearing before the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies convened at 11 a.m., 99 people had registered to testify at two minutes each — with signup continuing for another four hours.
The day began with a rally in favor of transgender youth outside the Capitol and a news conference by business leaders who called HB 25 harmful to the state's business-friendly reputation because it is discriminatory and makes it harder to recruit and keep talented employees.
Transgender Texans and family members showed up as well, saying HB 25 and similar measures threaten a group of children who are already subject to bullying, harassment and isolation.
"Transgender kids just want the freedom and the opportunity to participate in team sports just like any kid, but this bill will make them feel more excluded than ever," said Mandy Giles, the Houston mother of two transgender children.
"The people who govern this state have debated the humanity and equal rights of a marginalized group of children, like mine, over and over for 10 months, and that sounds like bullying to me," Giles said. "This relentless attack on transgender youth tells my kids they are not worthy of protecting and they will have to continually beg for their safety and privacy."
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But Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican, said she filed HB 25 not to target transgender children, but to protect student safety and ensure fairness in a state that takes its sports seriously.
"We all know men and women are built different, and the results prove the unfairness of forcing our daughters and granddaughters to compete against biological males. To say otherwise doesn't just reject biology, it denies girls their dignity, self-confidence and humanity," Swanson told the committee.
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HB 25 is intended to protect gains made under Title IX, the federal law designed to eliminate discrimination against girls and women in education and athletics, Swanson added.
"Title IX allowed women to compete in their own areas and compete fairly. There is indisputable evidence that biological males have a huge advantage over biological females," she said.
Gov. Greg Abbott added the transgender sports bill to the agenda of all three special sessions he's convened since House Democrats used delaying tactics to kill a similar Senate bill in the closing days of the regular session in May.
HB 25 was praised by members of Texas Values, a Christian public policy advocacy group, and other conservative organizations.
Ann Hettinger, Texas director for Concerned Women of America, said sports offer tremendous advantages, including fitness, discipline, self-confidence and learning teamwork to girls who risk being replaced by bigger, stronger athletes if biological males are allowed to compete on girls teams.
"To diminish those opportunities diminishes Texas girls," she said.
Opponents outnumbered supporters
Opponents of HB 25 far outnumbered supporters at Wednesday's hearing, with many saying the measure sends the wrong message to transgender Texans and those outside the state.
"HB 25 reinforces the perception that Texas is unwelcoming to LGBTQ people, and by singling out vulnerable kids, without any evidence, it suggests no stone will be left unturned year after year after year in order to keep sending that message," said Jessica Shortall with Texas Competes, a business coalition that includes leading employers, including Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Cisco, Dell Technologies, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Southwest Airlines.
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Other opponents feared a more personal toll, noting that there has been a sharp increase in calls for help from transgender Texans whenever the Legislature has debated bills like HB 25.
"Thankfully, none of these bills have passed, but trans kids are so traumatized that they're calling a suicide prevention hotline begging for help," said Amber Briggle, the mother of a 13-year-old transgender child. "The bill's authors, and all who support this, are responsible."
Saying she was disgusted with Republicans who were more worried about surviving primary challenges than protecting transgender youths, Briggle directed most of her comments directly to transgender Texans who were watching the hearing online or in the Capitol.
"Babies, I see you and love you so much. We're on your side, kids, because you're worth fighting for," she said. "Those who want to pass bills like HB 25 — kids, they're dinosaurs. You're going to outlive them. ... You are just as beautiful and miraculous today as you were on the date of your birth."
Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, almost 10½ hours after the hearing began, the committee split along party lines to approve HB 25 on an 8-4 vote. The bill next goes to the House Calendars Committee, which schedules floor votes on legislation.
Follow Chuck Lindell on Twitter: @chucklindell.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas anti-transgender sports bill stirs state Capitol protest