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Michigan Senate panel set to take up bill targeting transgender student athletes

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A controversial bill that would require high school athletes to compete on sports teams based on their "biological sex" will get a Tuesday hearing before a GOP-controlled Michigan Senate committee.

Democrats who oppose the legislation and see it as an attack on transgender students say Republican lawmakers plan to hold a vote in the full Senate as early as Wednesday. The public notice for Tuesday's noon hearing arrived at about 5 p.m. Monday, just before the 18-hour required window for meeting information to be posted.

A Senate committee plans to hold a Tuesday hearing on a bill that would require Michigan high school athletes to compete on sports teams based on their "biological sex."

"It’s cruel," Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, said of the bill. "It’s unnecessary.”

Democrats have asked Education and Career Readiness Chairwoman Lana Theis if people can testify virtually for the hearing, Polehanki said. It would "be a slap in the face" if such presentations aren't allowed, she said.

Theis, R-Brighton, introduced the proposal in March that would define "biological sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female" as identified at birth. The 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."

Theis has contended that women 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," the Republican lawmaker 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."

The proposal goes against the guidance approved by the Democratic-controlled 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 bill comes amid a national push by Republican lawmakers to ban transgender girls from competing on girls’ high school sports teams. The American Civil Liberties Union says legislation has been introduced this year in more than 30 states. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed such a policy into law earlier this month.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has labeled the Senate GOP bill unnecessary. The association has averaged two inquiries per year about its transgender policy over the last five years, compared with about 180,000 high school athletes in the state annually, MSHAA's spokesman Geoff Kimmerly said earlier this year.

The bill could take opportunities away from female athletes, Kimmerly added. During the 2018-2019 school year, more than 800 girls participated on boys team, he said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com