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Alabama House passes ban on transgender athletes in college sports


Alabama House passes ban on transgender athletes in college sports

Apr 19, 2023 | 9:01 am ET
By Alander Rocha
Alabama House passes ban on transgender athletes in college sports
Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, listens during a debate over a bill to ban transgender athletes from college sports on April 18, 2023 in the Alabama House of Representatives. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama House passed a bill banning transgender athletes from college sports on Tuesday, the latest in a series of bills attacking transgender youth in the state.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, passed on a 83-5 vote with 14 abstentions. It would require college athletes to play sports that align with their “biological sex.”

DuBose said this is a “women’s sport protection bill.”

“For the first decades of progress, women have made for equal opportunities in athletics as you can see by this flier that you have on your desk,” DuBose said.

She said that every male given a spot on a woman’s team displaces deserving females. A July article in Inside Higher Ed said that 30 openly transgender students have participated in college athletics, which has about 480,000 athletes.

A late amendment excluded intramural college sports from the ban.

The data on whether transgender athletes do or do not have advantages in sports is still unclear.  A recent article in Science said the results from tests do not allow the development of evidence-based policies on the issue. 

The bill would require transgender women to play on men’s teams, and transgender men to play on women’s teams. HB 261 would also allow a student “deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers direct or indirect harm” from a violation of the law to bring a lawsuit.

Alabama Equality, a LGBTQ+ organization, condemnded the legislation last week.

“The sponsor is a freshman legislator representing part of Jefferson County. Surely there are real issues in her district that need her attention and we would question how many transgender students are playing on school sports teams in her district,” Patricia Todd, the executive director of the organization, said in a statement.

Jim Purcell, executive director at Alabama Commission on Higher Education, said that he’s not surprised that this bill came up this year as there has been a growing movement around targeting transgender athletes.

But he has some concerns around federal funding. The US Department of Education made some changes to Title IX that would restrict states or universities from receiving federal aid if those universities establish policies that are prejudicial against transgender students.

Purcell said he made legislators aware of this information. That didn’t seem to impact the vote, he said.

But he said that access for need-based financial aid is important and the Department of Education provides a significant amount of need-based financial aid.

This Title IX regulation is still open to public comment right now, it is not currently the law.

“But when they do come, the state will have to make some consideration, which is probably more of a political calculation than a policy on how to move forward,” he said.

Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, offered an amendment that would require the state to comply with federal law and that it would be consistent with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Phillip Ensler
Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, speaks against a bill to ban transgender athletes from college sports on April 18, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

“I’m a lawyer, and I’ve looked through all of these through that legal lens, and I cannot stand here or sit here quietly when this bill will very likely subject the state of Alabama once again too-costly litigation that is going to cost the taxpayer dollars,” he said.

DuBose tabled Ensler’s amendment.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said that parts of the bill would address any funding issues that may arise from the federal government, and said he expects another amendment in Senate to address that issue.

“I think they’ll probably make another amendment in the Senate and that will be addressed as it goes through the process. So we’ll see how it goes. But I feel good about being addressed,” Ledbetter said.

Rep. Patrick Sellers, D-Birmingham, came out in support of the bill. He said a transgender athlete was able to “out maneuver, out shoot, out basketball, out ball every single female” and said that it is not fair “for a man to play against the women.”

“It is important that we protect our baby daughters,” Sellers said, receiving a standing ovation from Republican legislators.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, asked why they are having this conversation in Alabama, and said that he isn’t sure anyone in the House Chamber can find one example of this ever in the state of Alabama.

DuBose said that she doesn’t want it to happen in the first place.

“This is just an opportunity for people to create an issue, or a solution that is looking for a problem,” England said. “And listen – I’m all about proactive activity here. But sometimes we just got a little too far in and this is one of those things.”

The bill moves to the Senate.