Committee to Consider Ban on Transgender Girls from Girls High School Sports

Wyoming schools association policy allows for participation

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, says she introduced the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” for consideration by the legislature to prohibit “biological males from athletic teams and sports designated for females in public schools.” (Courtesy photo)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A state Senate committee will consider a bill to prevent transgender girls from playing on high school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity by overriding a policy that allows for their participation in some instances.

State Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, on Friday introduced Senate File 51 or the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act ” on the Senate floor, noting the sports participation policy for public high schools statewide is too ambiguous. The act would prohibit “biological males from athletic teams and sports designated for females in public schools,” according to the bill’s text.

“The definition of fairness is impartial and just treatment, and that’s what this bill is focusing on pure and simple: fairness when it comes to athletic competition,” Schuler said on the floor. “With the increase in transgender athletes all around the country competing against biological women and girls, we are seeing women and girls being sidelined and watching from the stands.”

Her bill advanced with 25 yes votes. Four senators voted no to the measure, and one senator was excused. Since the bill received the required minimum two-thirds vote, it passed introduction and was referred to the Senate Education Committee. 

Wyoming joins Utah, Iowa, Kentucky and South Dakota in efforts this month to advance legislation that would assign sports by sex and could restrict transgender athletes’ ability to participate in sports that fall under their gender identity.

However, public high schools in the state already follow a policy by the Wyoming High School Activities Association that says all students should be considered to participate in activities “consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.” The policy also allows students to appeal to a gender identity eligibility committee if they disagree with a school’s decision.

“Even after perusing their handbook, I think there are too many loopholes in their policy, and this bill is needed to protect the fairness factor of the many biological females that are competing in Wyoming sports,” Schuler, a retired high school teacher in Lyman and Evanston, told the Wyoming Truth. “We are seeing an increase in the number of transgender athletes around the country, and Wyoming is no different.”

She added, “Biology and science trump all when it comes to athletic performance. Even if someone were to take hormone suppressing drugs, it only decreases performance by about 5%. The competitive advantage males have over females is between 10-50%, depending on the sport. There are a number of studies that support this science. Thus, it creates an unfair advantage for the transgender athlete.”

The ACLU of Wyoming and Wyoming Equality, an advocate for the LGBTQ community, have urged the state Senate to not introduce Schuler’s bill this year.

“It is a legislative attack on transgender women and girls that violates both the United States Constitution and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which protects all students – including those who are transgender – from discrimination based on sex,” said Antonio Serrano, ACLU of Wyoming’s advocacy director. “The bill is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender people in our state. In Wyoming and around the country, transgender people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender identity for years. Inclusive teams that support all athletes and encourage participation should be the standard for all school sports.”

Ron Laird, commissioner of the Wyoming High School Activities Association, said he doesn’t think Schuler’s bill is needed since the association has a policy already.

“We’ve had this policy now for eight years,” Laird said. “It has worked. We’ve had no issues.”

Under the association’s policy, a transgender athlete who was biologically male could still participate in activities and sports for girls, but that decision lies at the school level.

Laird acknowledged to the Wyoming Truth that there have been transgender athletes who have participated in high school sports that align with their gender identity, but they have not taken spots away from female athletes.

Laird said he couldn’t provide an exact number of how many transgender athletes have participated because the association does not keep track of this data. He said it’s been a couple of years since the last case involving a transgender athlete.

He said more often the requests involved transgender students asking to participate in activities such as drama and speech rather than sports, so schools had to address travel matters and bathroom use.

Schuler and six other legislators sponsored the bill. The other legislators are Sens. Tim French, R-Powell, Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, and Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle; and Reps. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland and Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan.

The bill also gives students who are “deprived of an athletic opportunity” or suffer “any direct or indirect harm” due to a violation of the bill the ability to take legal action, such as seeking damages against a school or athletic association. It also provides protection to students who might face retaliation for reporting violations of the bill.

“I have competed as an athlete and as a coach for many years, and because of Title IX, I was able to compete on an even playing field against many other biological female athletes,” Schuler said. Schuler taught and coached at Lyman High School and Evanston High School for 40 years. She said she also competed as an athlete for five varsity sports while enrolled as a student at the University of Wyoming. She added she coached girls volleyball, girls and boys basketball and girls and boys track and field at the high school level.

“If we don’t do something, we will be going back in time and taking away opportunities from our females if we don’t have a bill such as this,” Schuler said. 

Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, said transgender students should have the opportunity to learn important life lessons gained from participating in sports.

“Transgender kids, like other students, deserve the same chances to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and self-discipline, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers,” Burlingame said in a statement released by the ACLU of Wyoming. “When legislators in Cheyenne tell transgender girls that they can’t play girls’ sports, they miss out on this important childhood experience and all the lessons it teaches. We can do better than this. Local schools have found solutions that work for kids, parents and staff. Let’s continue that thoughtful process rather than traumatizing vulnerable children.”

In the last few years, several states have taken some type of action on similar legislation that would bar transgender athletes from participating in sports that match their gender identity.

South Dakota became the latest state on Feb. 3 to pass legislation banning transgender girls and college-age women from playing in school sports for females. Idaho, Montana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and West Virginia have passed legislation to bar or limit transgender students from playing in school sports as of late last year, the Associated Press reported.

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