ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers dumped the thorny problem of whether transgender athletes should be allowed to play high school sports onto the state's main athletic association in a last-minute move as the 2022 session came to a close.
Senators had voted earlier to flatly ban transgender boys and girls rom playing on the school sports teams matching their gender identity, but House Speaker David Ralston had blocked that measure.
Instead, in a move so rushed that some lawmakers may not have known what they were doing, the General Assembly said that the Georgia High School Association “may” ban transgender girls who play for public schools from competing against other girls.
House Bill 1084 passed the House 98-71 and then, after the clock crept past the customary midnight adjournment time, it passed the Senate 32-21
Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, likened the decision to how the NCAA regulates transgender participation in college sports.
“We’re going to let them make those determinations,” Ralston told reporters after lawmakers adjourned for the year. “And we have an oversight committee on that. But that’s really where these determinations need to be made.”
Democrats reacted angrily to the legislation, shoved through in the closing minutes of the session without a full explanation.
The measure was included in House Bill 1084, which also bans the teaching of “divisive concepts” on race and was amended to set up an outside oversight committee over the Georgia High School Association. The association has long been bedeviled by complaints about how it divides its member schools by geography and size, as well as other issues.
The bill does not explicitly give the association the power to ban from competition transgender girls who play for private schools. A number of private schools are also members of the association.
Ralston would get one of the appointments to the oversight committee. The House speaker said he doesn't want transgender youth singled out.
“I’m going to communicate to them that I don’t want them targeted, and I hope that’s not the case,” Ralston said. “I think that’s a determination that GHSA needs to make in consultation with the member schools.”
The compromise came after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp embraced a transgender ban, even urging lawmakers to pass one hours before the session's close.
At least 10 Republican-led states have banned transgender women or girls in sports. Some other GOP-led states are also considering such bans.
Proponents of the ban say transgender girls have an unfair advantage because they were born as stronger males and warn that those born as girls will be denied places on the team or the podium if playing against transgender girls.
Similar measures never reached floor votes in the House or Senate last year. It’s one of a number of conservative education measures pushed by Republicans in a election year, including enumerating the rights of parents and letting parents challenge material they find objectionable.
Democrats warned that transgender children are already vulnerable to suicide and that excluding them could only lead more kids to harm themselves.
“Doing something like this, which takes extra feeling of belonging away from children who are at higher risk is something that at a minimum would deserve a floor debate," said Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, a Snellville Democrat. She said she wanted transgender children to understand "some of us are out here fighting for them and valuing them and we want them alive and included more than anything.”
Opponents warn that the move could violate Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, an executive order signed by Democratic President Joe Biden that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere, as well as rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.