Effort to ban transgender athletes hits a roadblock in the Texas House

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An effort to ban transgender student athletes from competing in sports within their gender identity was dealt a significant setback Tuesday after a Texas House committee voted not to advance a Senate-approved bill to the full House.

With a 6-5 vote in favor of the legislation, Senate Bill 29 was one vote short of the seven needed for a majority of the 13-member Public Education Committee — the minimum number of votes required to move the bill forward. Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, didn’t vote. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, wasn’t at the dais. He was presenting a bill before a different House committee when the vote was taken on Senate Bill 29, an aide said.

The bill and others like it have faced opposition from parents, activists and transgender Texans who say it is cruel, targets vulnerable children and would deprive them of the benefits that come with sports. The bill’s supporters have said it is necessary to level the playing field for girls who shouldn’t have to compete against athletes who were born male and that it is an issue of safety.

Similar bills around the country have become political flashpoints in recent weeks, underscoring the battle that many transgender athletes face in trying to practice their sports.

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Texas Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, who is on the committee, said legislators need to work together to ensure the bill doesn’t move forward.

“We don’t need this piece of legislation,” González said. “The consequences of the legislation could go literally off the rails, and that’s not going to be helpful to the House, to the future and most importantly to kids.”

Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said at the hearing that voting the bill out of committee would result in a contentious day on the House floor and waste precious legislative time.

“If we vote for this bill, I fear it’ll be a stain that we can’t remove,” Talarico said ahead of the committee vote. “It will be enough to tarnish the good name of this committee. It’ll be enough to overshadow the good work we did last session. I know we all have to vote on our conscience, and I pray for forgiveness for this committee and for the members on this committee that I love very much.”

Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, had introduced a committee substitute to the bill that Dutton said would remove the phrase “biological sex” to align with state birth certificate standards. It also removed a section of the bill relating to official birth certificates. 

“As my mother would say, it’s putting lipstick on a pig,” Talarico said. “It’s still a pig, though. It’s still codifying the noninclusive UIL policy that we currently have.”

The bill could be revived, however, for committee members to reconsider their votes.

House Bill 4042, a companion bill sponsored by Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant, was the subject of a lengthy committee hearing last month but hasn’t received a vote.

A person working in Hefner’s office Tuesday told the American-Statesman that Hefner wasn’t expecting it to receive a vote after SB 29 did not advance.

SB 29, approved a party-line vote in mid-April, would require athletes in Texas public high schools and grade schools to compete in sports based on the “biological sex” listed on their original birth certificate. Under that definition, biological boys would be banned from competing in girls sports, although girls could compete in boys sports if a comparable female sport was not available.

Amended birth certificates, which can be issued to reflect gender changes for transgender people, would no longer be accepted by the University Interscholastic League, which oversees extracurricular athletic events.

More than 40 corporations based or doing business in Texas issued a statement opposing the athletics bills and the NCAA has warned states contemplating limits on transgender athletes that they risk losing championship events, which can pump millions of dollars into local economies.