Oklahoma House Republicans pushed forward Monday with legislation to ban transgender girls and women from participating in female sports, passing Senate Bill 2 over the objections of LGBTQ organizations, House Democrats and business interests worried about the impact on everything from NCAA tournaments to the state’s nascent film industry to economic development.
A late addition to Monday’s House agenda, SB 2, by Sen. Michael Bergstrom, R-Adair, would bar boys and men from girls’ and women’s sports teams, open schools and athletic associations up for lawsuits if transgender girls or women are allowed to compete with cisgender females, and bar lawsuits to overturn the provisions.
The bill was further amended Monday by Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, to require parents to sign annual affidavits attesting to the sex at birth of their children and to notify appropriate authorities within 30 days of a change. The somewhat ambiguous language apparently is intended to mean parents would have to notify authorities if their child begins hormone treatment or other procedures that would change their appearance.
The bill passed 73-19, with only one Republican — Logan Phillips of Mounds — voting no. Eight Republicans, some of whom were absent, did not vote.
Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, insisted that she introduced the legislation — by shucking a Senate bill at the last possible minute and running it through the Criminal Justice Committee — in the best interests of both transgender and cisgender girls and women. She said it is unfair for “male-bodied” athletes to compete against cisgender girls and women, and she said transgender women are further ostracized by doing so.
“The reason this bill is important to me is the suicidality rate in the population that is transgender students,” said Hasenbeck, a former teacher.
She dismissed the notion that SB 2 infringes on the rights of transgender women and girls, saying, “Every single bill … that becomes law, there is a group of people whose rights decrease and there’s a group whose rights increase.”
Hasenbeck seemed to concede that Oklahoma might lose some business — including the Women’s College World Series softball tournament — but it could pick up other events, such as the Cattle Congress, which moved to Oklahoma City last year because of COVID-19 precautions in Denver.
Livid about the way the legislation was revived after it had seemingly died in the Senate, Democrats called Monday’s proceedings “shameful” and “disgusting” and at times broke down in tears.
“Have you knowingly encountered a transgender child?” asked Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, also a former educator. “I have. Many times. Would you believe playing sports is kind of the furthest thing from their mind? Instead, what they’re most concerned about is where they can go to the bathroom safely.
“And in those same meetings, the parents will walk out and leave those transgender kids homeless. And this is what we’re doing?”
Democrats laughed off the notion that the Republicans were interested in protecting women’s sports and noted that Hasenbeck could not produce a single documented case of conflict over transgender female athletes in Oklahoma.
“I have to respond to the contention that this is about women’s rights,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin of Norman. “I’ve been a woman in this (House) 11 years, and not once has this body taken up legislation to protect women’s rights.”
When someone suggested that transgender women might just be “mediocre” male athletes looking for a way to move up in the rankings, Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, a former college football player, said, “I played sports all the way through college. I don’t ever remember a mediocre male athlete saying, ‘Yo, dog, I can’t get on the field. I think I’ll go play with the women.”
Some Republicans maintained that transgender people are mentally ill or should accept the fact that God made them male or female. Others focused on the physical differences they said could not be negated by hormone therapy — which they claimed is unsafe for teens, anyway.
In fact, there have been a few cases nationally of transgender girls dominating athletic competitions, and Hasenbeck and other Republicans insisted that it is happening in Oklahoma but not being reported.
Republicans tended to couch their arguments in terms of competitive advantage and what they see as the natural order of things.
Democrats said the entire issue had been invented out of thin air to further a “culture war” that distracts the public from more serious issues, and they talked about the impact on gender nonconforming young people, who they say are already at higher risk of suicide, violence and emotional stress.
“The importance of doing away with legislation like this is creating a space for our children to grow and thrive,” said Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, the nation’s only nonbinary legislator. “As a nation we decided a long time ago … that discrimination was wrong, that everybody should have equal opportunity, including trans.”