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Transgender youth sports ban back for debate in South Carolina

Transgender Sports-South Carolina
Jeffrey Collins/AP
/
AP
LGBTQ groups gather for a news conference to speak against a bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing in girls sports on Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

A bill that would ban transgender student-athletes from competing in girls sports in South Carolina is is suddenly back in front of lawmakers.

A similar proposal died in a House committee last spring even as nearly a dozen other states, all Republican-led, passed their own laws preventing transgender students from playing on girls sports teams in middle and high school.

But on Thursday, a House subcommittee heard testimony for an hour on the proposal and LGBTQ advocates and a conservative family group held news conferences within 30 minutes of each other at the Statehouse. Next week, a Senate subcommittee will have its own public hearing.

The bill says the gender of students on their birth certificates will determine whether they can play on a boys team or a girls team. Boys won't be allowed on girls' teams, while girls can play on boys' teams.

"This an issue about families, about fairness and about children," said Rep. Cezar McKnight of Kingstree, the sole Democrat to vote for the bill in committee last April. Six Republicans voted against it at the time.

Supporters frame it as simple fairness when weighing the physiological differences between males and females. But opponents said that is too simplistic.

"I can't tell you how many times I have sat in the examining room listening to these kids cry while they tell me their stories. This is a marginalized group of kids. We don't need to marginalize them any further," Columbia pediatrician Debbie Greenhouse said.

Republican state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman also spoke against the proposal last year.

There are no public accusations of a transgender players having competitive advantages in South Carolina. The Associated Press last year reached out to two dozen lawmakers in the more than 20 states considering similar youth sports measures and found that only a few times has it been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who play high school sports.

The bills in the House and Senate are coming up on a critical deadline. Bills that don't pass at least one chamber by April 10 need a two-thirds vote to be considered. Republicans are a few seats under that threshold in both chambers.

The House subcommittee had pages of speakers who wanted to talk to lawmakers about the bill and did not come close to the end of the list. The bill would likely have to get past the House Judiciary Committee, where it failed in 2021.

The Senate has yet to take up the matter, so its future there is unclear.

During Thursday's hearing, Dylan Gunnells, who founded The Agape Table where LGBTQ people of faith can gather, asked lawmakers to remember they are dealing with people.

"Strip the labels, even your own, and identify with the humanity of the people you serve," Gunnells said.