The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday approved legislation that would bar transgender athletes from participating in school sports that match their gender identity, putting Texas on track to becoming the largest state to pass such legislation as part of a larger Republican crusade against transgender rights this year.
The bill, HB 25, passed in the Texas House by a vote of 76-54 after more than 10 hours of emotional debate.
The bill, which largely takes aim at the ability of trans women and girls to participate in women’s sports, still needs final approval from the Texas Senate, but that body has already approved similar legislation, and passage there is considered likely.
BREAKING: The Texas House just voted to discriminate against trans kids and exclude them from playing sports as their authentic selves.
For months, trans kids and advocates have been fighting against bills like HB 25. That fight doesn't end tonight. #TransPeopleBelong
— ACLU of Texas (@ACLUTx) October 15, 2021
Eight states, all with Republican legislatures, have enacted legislation targeting transgender athletes, while South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed an executive order similar to those laws this year. But the Texas bill, House Bill 25, will likely have larger implications, given that Texas is home to the nation’s second-largest LGBTQ population and often serves as a starting point for the most aggressive conservative legislation in the country.
Texas Republicans, like their counterparts in other states, pitched the bill as an effort to protect women’s sports and Title IX, the federal law that guarantees women and girls equal access to education and scholastic athletics.
But as in other states, supporters produced no evidence that trans athletes are actually posing a risk to girls’ participation or ability to compete in scholastic sports. Before Thursday’s vote, Texas Republicans also said they did not know how many transgender athletes compete in scholastic sports across the state.
“This is a non-issue,” Democratic state Rep. Mary González said on the House floor Thursday. “We don’t need this bill; in fact, we should be doing the opposite.”
Democrats attempted to derail the bill’s passage on Thursday with a flurry of amendments and arguments on the House floor that even considering such legislation had already had drastic effects on transgender and LGBTQ youth across the state. The Trevor Project, a crisis and suicide prevention organization, has said that contacts from LGBTQ Texans have increased 150% this year, to more than 11,000. More than a third of those calls came from young transgender and nonbinary Texans, the group said.
Passage of the bill, LGBTQ youth advocates say, will not only deny educational and athletic opportunities to trans youth. It will also exacerbate mental health problems and put more lives at risk.
“We’re going to have trans youth that, at best, are used to getting bullied by state political leadership, and that at worst aren’t with us anymore, because they’ve seen the hate that these people put against them,” said Andrea Nicolette Segovia, the policy and field coordinator for the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
“And we’re talking about kids,” she continued. “We’re not talking about people who pay their taxes, or have a job, or can vote these people out. We’re talking about kids that don’t have much control over what’s happening over their lives, and, if we’re being honest, are fortunate if they have one supportive person in their life.”
The Texas House has been the primary obstacle to Republican efforts to pass anti-trans legislation for years: In 2017, protests from activists and opposition from major corporations thwarted the passage of a so-called “bathroom bill” in the state House, and other anti-trans sports bills failed to advance out of the House Education Committee three times this year.
But this bill passed out of a separate committee last week, paving the way for Republicans to approve it on Thursday, during yet another special legislative session.
While Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will almost certainly sign the bill into law once it passes both chambers, that does not guarantee it will go into effect. Last year, a federal judge blocked similar legislation from taking effect in Idaho. A federal appeals court heard an appeal to that ruling in May but has not yet issued its decision.
National and Texas-based civil rights and LGBTQ rights groups also plan to file legal challenges against HB 25 if it becomes law, Segovia said.
A coalition of 1,500 companies with a presence in Texas, including American Airlines, Apple and Amazon, came out against the legislation before its passage, as did the WNBA and the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash ― Houston’s men’s and women’s pro soccer teams. Mayors across the state also urged the legislature to drop the bill.
Segovia worried that passage of the bill would only embolden Texas Republicans, and perhaps lead to the resuscitation of a “bathroom bill” that would prohibit transgender Texans from using the public facilities that best correspond with their gender identities, or other bills relating to birth certificates that would similarly curtail LGBTQ rights.
“What’s their next step?” Segovia asked. “What is the chain reaction to this, and them feeling like they had success? Where are they going to stop? We just don’t know.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.