New Michigan bill: Divide high school teams based on biological sex

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Transgender athletes in Michigan would have no choice of whether to play on male or female high school sports teams under a new proposal supported by a majority of the Republicans in the GOP-controlled Michigan Senate.

Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, introduced the bill Wednesday that would require high school students to compete on sports teams based on their "biological sex," which the legislation defines as "the physical condition of being male or female" as identified at birth.

The bill, which Democrats slammed as an attack on transgender students, is part of a national movement among some Republicans who oppose the idea of transgender individuals who identify as women competing on female sports teams. Former President Donald Trump raised the subject during his Feb. 28 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, arguing that women should not have to play against "biological males."

The Southfield girls' basketball team bench's yellow shoes reflect on the gym floor on March 22, 2019. A Republican Michigan lawmaker has proposed requiring the state's school athletes to compete in sports based on their "biological sex."

"It’s not good for women," Trump said. "It’s not good for women’s sports."

In a statement, Theis said women had fought to have an equal opportunity to compete in athletics on a level playing field through Title IX, a federal civil rights law that protects against discrimination based on sex in education programs.

"Something must be done to preserve the legacy of Title IX — a staple of American society," Theis said. "So, very simply, my bill will ensure that, in school sports in Michigan, student athletes will compete against one another according to their biological sex — females against females, and males against males."

Senate GOP leadership referred the bill to the Education and Career Readiness Committee, which Theis chairs, meaning she can decide whether it gets a hearing. In addition to Theis, 12 of the other 19 Senate Republicans signed on as co-sponsors.

Democrats and advocates for transgender Michiganians blasted the bill. Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, called it "harmful."

"It will directly impair the ability of trans youth to participate in sports, and only adds to the stigma that they face," Knott said. "Senate Republicans are unnecessarily targeting trans youth.This legislation is an overt, coordinated, multi-state attack on the most vulnerable young people."

The Associated Press reported last week that lawmakers in more than 20 states had introduced bills to ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ high school sports teams. In "almost every case," the sponsors couldn't cite "a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems," the Associated Press found.

The new Michigan bill says girls competing on girls' high school sports teams "must be female based on biological sex." Likewise, it says boys competing on boys' high school teams "must be male based on biological sex."

The proposal goes against the guidance approved by the State Board of Education in 2016. The "safe and supportive learning environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students" guidance said students should be allowed to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity.

The MHSAA, for now, plans to have soccer continue playing in the fall.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association declined Wednesday to make an immediate comment.

Democratic legislators criticized it on social media.

"This is sickening," said Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township. "Our senators are spending time discriminating against children instead of working together to help get MI back on track and recover safely from COVID."

Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, who played football and track at Cornell University, said sports are one of the important places for children to find belonging.

"Attempts to deny girls this chance is hateful and counter to the progress we are making in sports," Hollier said. "I played sports longer and more competitively than all but a handful of members of the Legislature, and this is not needed."

Hollier said the proposal showed the need for expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

An average of 1.8% of high school students identify as transgender, according to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on survey data from school districts.

cmauger@detroitnews.com