Georgia High Schools Athletic Association Bans Transgender Athletes

ATLANTA — Georgia’s main high school athletic association voted Wednesday to ban transgender boys and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity, saying instead that students must play on teams that match the sex listed on their birth certificates at birth.

The Georgia High School Association executive committee, meeting in Thomaston, voted unanimously for the change. It will go into effect for the next school year, spokesman Steve Figueroa said.

Supporters of the ban say transgender girls have an unfair advantage because they were born as stronger men and warn those born as girls could be denied spots on the team or on the podium if they played against transgender girls.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to participate, but the playing field must be a level playing field,” said Cole Muzio, chairman of the conservative Frontline Policy Council, which has been pushing for action. “GHSA’s action today recognizes science, reflects reality and restores fairness.”

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, a candidate for re-election, passed a ban. When he signed a bill last week reiterating the GHSA’s power to ban transgender athletes, Kemp said he wanted to “protect fairness in school sports.”

Opponents have said excluding transgender children would send a damaging message to a group already vulnerable to suicide or self-harm.

“For these very vulnerable trans children who appear to have significant mental health issues, they will receive this as a message of rejection,” said State Senator Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat and mother of a transgender child.

At least 12 Republican-led states have passed laws banning transgender women or girls from playing sports. Other GOP-led states are considering such bans. Some other states, such as Texas, have banned transgender girls through athletic association policies, as has Georgia.

From 2016 to present, the Georgia Association has allowed each school and school board to decide which teams transgender students can play on. The association includes public schools and some private schools. GHSA executive director Robin Hines said the change simply reverts to the birth certificate rule that existed “forever” before 2016.

“It focuses on sporting fairness and competitive balance,” Hines said.

However, it is unclear whether any transgender students participated in sports. Proponents of a ban gave no specific examples. Hines said he’s been told a few transgender athletes have run in boys’ cross country, but said the association isn’t officially tracking the issue.

The spotlight turned to the GHSA after Georgia lawmakers, unable to agree on a law banning transgender students from playing sports that matched their gender identity, passed Bill 1084 reiterating the existing power of the GHSA to regulate the matter.

The last-minute deal came after Kemp pushed lawmakers to act on the final night of Georgia’s legislative session. The bill’s passage was so rushed that many lawmakers did not have a copy of the text and did not know what they were voting on.

Opponents said they were surprised the association acted Wednesday without a study, pointing to language in the bill that appeared to call for a study commission. They said they were open to some kind of regulation, but opposed an outright ban.

“Their actions, to move so quickly and without considering the damage it will cause, without actually researching the complexities and nuances of this issue, will end up hurting children across Georgia,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, a group advocating for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

Graham suggested that some public school districts whose representatives voted for their policies were challenging their own policies that are more welcoming to transgender students. Opponents have also warned that a ban could violate Title IX of the federal Education Act prohibiting sex discrimination, an executive order signed by Democratic President Joe Biden that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in sports. schools and elsewhere, as well as the decisions of federal courts.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge had blocked the ban from being written into law, but agreed to the compromise. He told reporters moments after the bill passed that he did not want transgender children to be “targeted” and planned to tell the GHSA.

However, Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen said Wednesday that the Speaker of the House has not spoken to the association about the subject.

“We have no comment on GHSA’s decision – it was up to them,” McMichen said.

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