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TX Senate passes transgender youth sports bill, challenges in House awaits

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The Senate passes the bill banning transgender children from playing school sports of the gender in which they identify, but it still has a long way to go before getting to Gov. Abbott's desk. (CBS Austin)

The Texas Senate passed the bill banning transgender children from playing school sports of the gender in which they identify, sending it to the House - which is where this bill has died in previous sessions.

The Senate gave initial approval to Senate Bill 3 by a vote of 19-12. Soon after, the chamber adjourned to end the legislative day, but began a new day just a few minutes later.

By doing this, the body did not have to approve suspending the rules requiring bills be read on three separate days - which has been common practice in the upper chamber. Instead, because they ended the day, the Senate still followed its chamber rules.

Senate Bill 3 bans all transgender girls from playing girls sports, and would allow transgender boys to play boys sports if there is no girls sport option. This particular priority has been an agenda item in each of the three special sessions.

Specifically, the bill states schools "may not allow a student to compete in an interscholastic athletic competition sponsored or authorized by the district or school that is designated for the biological sex opposite to the student ’s biological sex," listing birth certificates or other government records as acceptable forms of proof.

This has been one of the most polarizing priorities contributing to a widening dived between the two parties, dating back to the regular session.

Supporters of the bill have pointed to assertions that boys have a biological advantage - namely, size - over girls at the school level and are now able to participate in girls sports if they want.

"We will protect the biological female to participate in sports with their biological counterpart," said state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who has authored a bill for this priority in each session this year.

Critics of the bill point to the fact the University Interscholastic League - the UIL, which is the governing body for school sports in Texas - already has rules banning this fear by Republicans.

"Member schools may not permit boys to try out for, or participate under the Jr. High School or High School Athletic Plans designated for girl’s teams," the UIL rules state. "Gender shall be determined based on a student’s birth certificate. In cases where a student’s birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be substituted."

However, their biggest concern has been what bills and discussions like this do to transgender children already at a higher risk of mental health issues and suicide.

According to The Trevor Project - which is a national organization dedicated to providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth - 40 % of transgender adults have reported to attempting suicide, with 92 percent of this group making their attempt before they turned 25.

"My concern is we have transgender children who are in many ways - in their educational settings - left out, set aside, made fun of, bullied," said state Sen. José Menéndez. "My concern is whether your intention is just to preserve the protections of women, you're unintentionally going to cause further serious mental harm to our transgender youth."

Perry defended the bill by stating the risk of ostracization of transgender children is not the intent of the bill.

"I am sensitive to the fact they live in a way that, unfortunately, people choose to treat differently than they should. We have laws on the books for that, but that's not the purpose of SB 3," Perry said.

Beyond this concern, Democrats have also raised the point of the UIL testifying during committee hearings each time they've considered the bill that they have not had a reported case of a boy trying to play on a girls team.

"You still haven't named a school district or a student that is being kicked off a team because of a transgender athlete. You haven't done it," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

During Wednesday's discussion, Menéndez also asked Perry if this bill may possibly be illegal.

"You're aware the Department of Education has recently released LGBTQ persons are protected under Title IX. Therefore, I'm concerned this bill will be unconstitutional based on that measure and others. I think the legal argument is the bill is going to conflict with Title IX. Are you concerned at all with that," Menéndez asked.

"I don't that that's a "legal standing." That's an interpretation. We'll let the courts figure it out," Perry answered.

There is still a long way to go for the bill before heading to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

The bill governing school sports now heads to the House, which is the chamber that has served as an insurmountable hurdle in both the regular and special sessions.

During the regular session, the Republican-chaired Calendars Committee buried that version of the bill low enough on the calendar for the deadline date to pass bills that it never came close to being called up for a discussion and vote.

All bills died in the first special session because of Texas House Democrats keeping their chamber below the minimum number of members required to take any legislative action.

Once quorum was restored in the second special session, the bill on transgender children and school sports died for a third time. This time, the Democratically-chaired Public Education Committee did not take a vote on the bill before the end of the session despite it passing the Senate.

The House reconvenes at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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