Transgender athlete ban heads to South Carolina Senate floor

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After nearly two years of work, supporters of a bill that would ban transgender students from playing girls’ and women’s sports in South Carolina high schools and public colleges have gotten a proposal out of committee.

But the bill as written — especially including colleges and private schools — didn’t appear to have enthusiastic support among Republicans in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

“This bill here is not ready for prime time. It’s just not ready. We don’t have an idea how the universities are going to be affected. We don’t have any idea how the private schools are going to be affected,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree said.

The bill would require athletes to compete with the gender listed on their birth certificates

Hembree said he isn’t against the bill, especially at the college level where biological differences continue to grow after puberty. The Republican from Little River isn’t as sure it is a problem in high schools and wants to get some questions answered.

Hembree reluctantly went along with a voice vote Wednesday that sent the bill to the Senate floor. He offered to hold one more meeting next Tuesday to get some answers, but the bill supporters didn’t budge, fearing the proposal would miss an April 7 legislative deadline and then need a two-thirds vote to be considered.

At least three Republicans voted against taking up the bill immediately.

“When you have problems like this, going to the floor with two weeks left you’re writing your own obituary in my view,” Hembree said.

Nearly a dozen states have already passed similar legislation and transgender athletes have become an issue in midterm campaigns in states like Pennsylvania. But Republicans aren’t united. GOP governors in Indiana and Utah have recently vetoed bans in their states.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox pointed out that that state has four transgender players out of 85,000 competing in school sports after being ruled eligible by the state’s high school athletic association and only one competes in girls sports.

“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” Cox said in his veto message.

South Carolina high school officials have said they consider each case individually and see no need for a ban, a position echoed by elected Republican state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman.

Most of the discussion Wednesday in the South Carolina Senate Education Committee centered on including colleges with the bill. Opponents said that would open up much bigger problems if an out-of-state team had a transgender athlete forcing a team in South Carolina to forfeit or face a lawsuit over whether a result is fair when a transgender athlete competes.

“At the end of the day, this is a legal nightmare,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Hartsville.

Bill supporter Sen. Larry Grooms said lawmakers should never base decisions on lawsuits. “Somebody will always be able to find a reason to file a lawsuit over something,” the Republican from Bonneau said.

Malloy asked bill sponsor Sen. Richard Cash if he took any testimony from colleges, and Cash said no.

Malloy asked supporters if they thought what might happen if the NCAA pulls the women’s basketball regional semifinals and finals from Greenville in 2023 if the bill is passed or other teams stopped playing in-state opponents like the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked women’s basketball team.

“If a girls basketball team came in here and they had a transgender athlete who was 6-feet-11 and they beat the University of South Carolina there might be a lot more interest in what we are talking about — because that could happen right now,” Cash said as a group of bill supporters cheered.

A House subcommittee also has held hearings on a similar bill, but it has not been sent to the floor. The proposal couldn’t pass out of committee on the House side in 2021.

A group called SC United for Justice and Equality pointed out the vetoes by governors in Utah and Indiana and called for South Carolina lawmakers to reject the proposal.

“Today’s hearing also included insensitive discussion about transgender people, including misgendering and relentless focus on trans bodies. To every trans or queer person who watched the hearing, please know that you are loved and supported, and that you belong in all spaces,” the group said in a statement.

(WATCH BELOW: NCAA updates policy for transgender athlete participation, adopting sport-by-sport approach)

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