Georgia trans sports bill passes, but what does it mean?

Gov. Brian Kemp rallied support behind a bill that would leave it up to the Georgia High School Association to determine whether transgender athletes can participate in girls’ sports. “It’s really fairness in girls sports,” Kemp said in an interview with News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. “As the father of three daughters, I certainly want them on a level playing field. … To get something done, especially that late, was really good.” Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

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Gov. Brian Kemp rallied support behind a bill that would leave it up to the Georgia High School Association to determine whether transgender athletes can participate in girls’ sports. “It’s really fairness in girls sports,” Kemp said in an interview with News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. “As the father of three daughters, I certainly want them on a level playing field. … To get something done, especially that late, was really good.” Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

State Sen. Sally Harrell thought the fight was over Monday afternoon after lawmakers defeated a bill that would have banned high school athletes in Georgia from playing on sports teams that don’t match the gender on their birth certificate. The Atlanta Democrat, mother of a transgender child, breathed a sigh of relief.

But just a few minutes before midnight Harrell got a surprise. With breathtaking speed and little advance warning, Senate Republicans rushed through a watered-down version of the measure, tacking it onto a larger education bill. The legislation, which then passed on a party-line vote, wouldn’t ban transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports outright. Instead, it would leave the decision to the Georgia High School Association, which has, so far, stayed out of the polarizing debate. The bill also would establish a 10-member executive oversight committee to explore the future of trans athletes in school sports.

But what does it actually mean now for Georgia’s soccer fields, basketball courts and swimming pools?

The executive director of Georgia Equality, the state’s largest advocacy group on LGBTQ issues, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he is unaware of any transgender girls competing in girls sports in the state.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” Jeff Graham said.

Robin Hines, executive director of the Georgia High School Association, said he hadn’t had time to assess the bill. Currently, the GHSA leaves gender identification decisions to individual districts.

“At first glance, the GHSA will need to determine if they believe this is an issue that needs a by-law clarification that goes beyond the current policy of accepting member school’s gender determination,” Hines said in a statement.

So, while there won’t be any immediate impact on the ground, one thing is clear: Georgia is now fully engaged in this year’s favored culture war issue. Transgender sports has become a rallying cry for the GOP this election cycle. Supporters of a ban call it an issue of fairness, saying that girls cannot compete against physically stronger male-born rivals. But opponents say it could have serious mental health consequences for kids, some of whom are already fragile.

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Gov. Brian Kemp has not only signaled he will sign the bill, he rallied support behind it in the session’s final hours. Kemp is locked in a GOP primary challenge against former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and has been working to shore up his conservative credentials.

“It’s really fairness in girls sports,” Kemp said in an interview with News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. “As the father of three daughters, I certainly want them on a level playing field. … To get something done, especially that late, was really good.”

Graham decried lawmakers for sending a signal to transgender kids that they don’t belong.

“While a commission is marginally better than an outright ban, we must denounce the establishment of this oversight committee for what it is — a political attempt to score points on the backs of young people who just want to be left alone and allowed to play sports with their friends,” he said.

But while some Republicans see the issue as one that will resonate with their voters this fall, not everyone has signed on.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb both vetoed anti-trans sports bills that were passed by Republican lawmakers in their states

House Speaker David Ralston also has reservations. He called the bill that passed a “not complicated compromise.”

Ralston said he didn’t want transgender athletes targeted and would communicate that to the GHSA.

“We have an oversight committee on that. That’s really where these determinations need to be made,” the Blue Ridge Republican said. “And hopefully they’ll do the right thing as we go forward.”