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Senate Passes Bill That Bans Transgender Girls And Women From Participating In Girls' Sports

Arkansas Senate

The Arkansas Senate has advanced a bill that bans transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that align with their gender identity.

Under Senate Bill 354, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, public schools and open-enrollment charter schools as well as public higher education institutions are not allowed to accept transgender girls or women into sports designated for girl athletes. 

The bill also allows for girls who are "deprived of an athletic opportunity," or suffered direct or indirect harm from a school not following the ban to seek injunctive relief, or even monetary damages. 

Neither state entities nor athletic associations would be allowed to accept a complaint concerning gender bias, open an investigation or take any other action against a school that does bar transgender girls and women from competing in women’s’ sports.

In presenting the bill, Irvin labeled it as a measure to protect cisgender girls who she says are at a physical disadvantage when competing against transgender girls. 

"This bill will ensure that girls and women in Arkansas will be able to compete on a level playing field by giving them and schools a private cause of action. They should have the same opportunity as a man to pursue and reach their goals," Irvin said. 

Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, was one of five Democrats who spoke against the bill, saying if passed, the bill would likely be struck down as unconstitutional. 

"I think it’s pretty clear under Title IX that this law will violate Title IX. And that’s based on an opinion written by Neil Gorsuch last year," Tucker said. "In that opinion, they ruled that the Federal Civil Rights Act said that it is impossible to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity or their sexual orientation without discriminating against them on the basis of sex."

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, spoke in favor of the bill on the Senate floor, focusing on the potential biological differences between transgender athletes and cisgender athletes. 

"Even if you set aside everything else, there is a reality. There’s facts that men’s muscle mass is denser, that they have more larger bone mass, that they are physically superior when it comes to strength and height and all that kind of stuff," Ballinger said. 

Senator Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill, saying it will cause harm to transgender youth.

"The kids who commit suicide more than any other group are our children too. They have names, they have faces and they have feelings. And they know that this bill means the state of Arkansas views them as other. I urge a no vote," Chesterfield said.

With the Senate passing the bill by a vote of 28-7, the legislation now goes to the House.

Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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