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A Republican bill that would extend Texas’ restrictions on transgender athletes to the college level could be on track to become law after receiving support from a majority of House members.
The bill’s author, state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, announced Wednesday that 77 GOP colleagues had signed on as co-authors of House Bill 23. That gives it slightly more than the support it needs to pass the 150-member House. The measure already has support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott.
The legislation would bar transgender men from competing on men’s college sports teams and transgender women from joining women’s college athletic teams. But the bill would also allow cisgender and transgender female athletes to play on a men’s team if there is no corresponding women’s team in a particular sport. The bill would also extend the current restrictions on transgender athletes in K-12 schools to private schools whose sports teams compete against public schools.
There are still nearly three months left in the legislative session, and the bill could hit procedural snags, among other hurdles. But for now, the unified GOP support makes it likely the proposal will become law in some form.
Swanson said in a news release that the legislation is important to “protect fairness in women’s sports.” The proposal is a priority for Patrick, and at a conservative political conference last month, Abbott also vowed to prevent trans women from competing against cisgender women at the college level.
Opponents say the proposal needlessly targets transgender Texans and further stigmatizes them.
“It’s such a distraction from the actual challenges women and girls face and targets an already vulnerable group of Texans who are doing nothing other than trying to be a part of their communities,” said Anne Lieberman, policy director at the advocacy group Athlete Ally.
House Bill 23 is among scores of bills that could bring major changes to the lives of gay and transgender Texans. Republicans also want to restrict when sexuality and gender identity are taught in schools, where people can perform in drag and what kind of health care is available to transgender children.
Two years ago, Abbott signed into law a bill that restricted transgender student athletes from playing on K-12 school sports teams that align with their gender identity. However, there was almost instant pressure from the right to go further, and HB 23 would extend the 2021 prohibition to transgender students’ sports participation at colleges and universities.
For more than a decade, the National Collegiate Athletic Association allowed transgender women to participate in women’s college sports championships if they had at least one year of testosterone suppression medication for treatment of gender dysphoria. Transgender men could compete in men’s teams championships if they received testosterone treatments for gender dysphoria.
Last year, the NCAA Board of Governors adopted a new policy that will be phased in by the 2024-25 season. Under the new policy, the national governing body for each sport will determine the qualifications for trans athletes’ participation, though there are still requirements to report testosterone levels to the NCAA. The changes were made in response to mounting pressure from anti-trans activists who criticized the NCAA’s decision to allow Lia Thomas, a trans woman, to compete on the women’s swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania.
Currently, trans athletes must meet policy requirements set in 2010 and provide documented testosterone levels for their sports at the start of the season and six months into competition.
The NCAA has not taken a stance on similar legislation passed in states across the country. But at least 20 Texas universities compete in NCAA competitions, including the University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University and Texas A&M University. The legislation would also prevent transgender athletes who attend schools outside of Texas from competing against teams at Texas universities.
All 77 co-authors of House Bill 23 signed on Tuesday. They include every Republican in the House except the speaker, Dade Phelan, who does not typically co-author bills, and seven others: Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Angie Chen Button of Richardson, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, Stan Lambert of Abilene, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Mike Schofield of Katy. That is a mostly moderate group of House Republicans, some of whom also did not coauthor the K-12 ban.
LGBTQ rights advocates reiterated their criticism of the legislation Wednesday.
“Given that sports are such an integral part of Texas culture, I think it’s unfortunate we’re seeing legislators target minorities and exclude them from participating in sports that are such valuable ways for young people to be involved and learn teamwork and sportsmanship,” said Johnathan Gooch, communications director for Equality Texas.
The legislation could potentially open up universities to Title IX lawsuits. In 2021, the Biden administration said that law, which was created more than 50 years ago to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to LGBTQ students. The Department of Education said it would enforce the law in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“There are so many ways in which a legal challenge could be mounted to a bill like this,” Lieberman said. “You’re talking about adults with nondiscrimination protections in other states and other areas of the country. It makes everything far more complex.”
Disclosure: Equality Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.