ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia high schools’ premier athletic federation voted Wednesday to ban transgender boys and girls from playing on school athletic teams that match their gender identity, saying instead that students must play on teams who match the sex listed on their birth certificates at birth.
The Georgia High School Association Executive Committee voted unanimously in favor of the change at its Thomaston meeting. It will go into effect for the next school year, spokesman Steve Figueroa said.
Proponents of the ban say transgender girls have an unfair advantage because they were born stronger men and warn that playing against transgender girls could result in being denied girl-born spots on the team or podium.
“Everyone should have an opportunity to participate, but the playing field should be level,” said Cole Muzio, president of the conservative Frontline Policy Council, which lobbied for the action. “Today’s action by GHSA recognizes the science, reflects reality and restores fairness.”
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who was running for re-election, welcomed a ban. When he signed legislation last week reaffirming the GHSA’s power to ban transgender athletes, Kemp said he wanted to “protect fairness in school sports”.
Opponents said excluding transgender children would send a harmful 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 Sen. Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat and mother of a transgender child.
At least 12 Republican-led states have passed legislation banning transgender women or girls from sports. Other GOP-led states are considering such bans. Some other states, like Texas, have banned transgender girls through sports governing body policies, as Georgia has done.
From 2016 to the present, the Georgia Association has allowed individual schools and school boards 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 only returns to the birth certificate rule that existed “forever” before 2016.
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“This focuses on sporting equity and competitive balance,” Hines said.
However, it is unclear if transgender students participated in the sport. Proponents of a ban gave no concrete examples. Hines said he’s been told some transgender athletes have been running cross-country with boys, but said the federation 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 conform to their gender identity, passed House Bill 1084, which overturned the GHSA’s existing authority to regulate this problem.
The deal was reached at the last minute after Kemp urged lawmakers to act on the last night of Georgia’s parliamentary term. The passage of the bill was so hasty that many lawmakers did not have copies of the text and did not know what they were voting on.
Opponents said they were surprised the association acted on Wednesday without a study, citing language in the bill that appears to have called for a study committee. They said they were open to some sort of regulation but opposed an outright ban.
“Your action, to act so hastily and without considering the harm this will do, without actually examining the complexities and nuances of this issue, will ultimately harm children across Georgia,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, a Group that advocates for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Graham suggested that some public school districts whose representatives voted in favor of her policies opposed their own policies that make transgender students more welcome. Opponents also warned that a ban could violate Title IX of the federal Education Act, which bans sex discrimination, an executive order signed by Democratic President Joe Biden outlawing gender identity discrimination in school sports and elsewhere, and decisions by federal courts.
Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge had blocked the imposition of the ban but approved the compromise. Shortly after the law passed, he told reporters he didn’t 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 on the issue.
“We have no comment on the GHSA’s decision – it was their business,” McMichen said.