Arizona bill targeting transgender athletes could impact state’s ability to host NCAA events

Although Arizona is the site of two NCAA softball regionals this week, that might not be the case next year if the state passes a law requiring athletes to compete in interscholastic sports based on their sex at birth.

The “Save Women’s Sports Act” was introduced on Feb. 3 as House Bill 2706, and passed in a party line vote of 31-29. The ban on transgender students participating in girls sports was sponsored by Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, and will be introduced to the state Senate in early May.

The NCAA Board of Governors, which is comprised of university presidents and chancellors, issued a statement on April 12 that it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports” and that “when determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.”

Advocates for the transgender community were surprised Sunday when three states – Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee – which already have legislation banning transgender athletes from interscholastic competition, were named by the NCAA as hosts for the postseason softball tournament which begins Thursday. Arizona State and the University of Arizona are also hosting games.

Backlash from the decision could prompt the organization to be more selective in naming sites next year.

Arizona is among dozens of states that are considering passing legislation related to the federal “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” which specifies that sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth. A lawsuit filed last February is at the root of the proposed legislation.

The suit filed by three female high school track athletes from Connecticut sought to stop transgender female athletes from participating in girls high school sports in the state. A U.S. district court judge dismissed the case in April on procedural grounds.

“We have fought so long as women for our freedoms, our ability to stand up and believe in what we believe in,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, a co-sponsor of the bill. “And now we’re going to be forced to have biological males compete in girls and women’s sports? That’s not fair to the women.”

A transgender Arizona physician disagrees.

“Shame on them for passing laws that prevent those kids from competing,” said Dr. Bobbi Lancaster, an accomplished amateur golfer. “They’ve got no advantage. Let’s get real here.”

Lancaster believes taking away opportunities to compete in sports will hurt transgender females in the long run.

“It’s a place where you will learn about (being part of a) team,” Lancaster said. “You’ll learn about yourself. You’ll make friendships and have a common goal. There’s all kinds of life lessons you learn through sports, and some of them are lifelong relationships.”

Lancaster is not the only one who believes the proposed federal legislation will be detrimental to the transgender community.

Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said the bill is no surprise to the transgender community, which has been targeted by numerous proposed bills since 2015, when same-sex marriage was legalized.

“This is the new frontier, where we see our opposition targeting trans youth, and I should say in the states we know that these bills are being put forth, supported, encouraged by groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Heritage Foundation, folks that are known to be anti-equality,” Oakley said.

The “Save Women’s Sports Act” challenges the intent of Title IX, which was passed in 1972 and states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Oakley doesn’t believe proposed legislation that conflicts with Title IX will hold up to judicial scrutiny following three U.S. Supreme Court cases decided in June, when the court ruled that discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“They’re not going to be able to change what Title IX means,” Oakley said. “Title IX includes prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of sex. We now have a Supreme Court decision that makes it very clear that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Oakley believes the proposed Arizona legislation “is something that politicians have manufactured in order to be able to have a platform to hurt trans people.”

Not true, Lesko said.

“We’ve seen a number of instances where transgender (females) are competing against biological women,” she said, “and it must be stopped.”

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