A bill that would ban transgender girls and women from participating in sports that align with their gender-identity has passed an Arkansas Senate committee.
Senate Bill 354 would establish the "Fairness in Women’s Sports Act," and bans both K-12 schools as well as higher education institutions from allowing transgender athletes to participate in sports that match their gender identity.
By a vote of 5-3, the Senate Education Committee advanced the bill on Monday. The vote was split along party lines, with no Republican voting against it, and no Democrat voting for it.
Senator and bill sponsor Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said the purpose of the legislation is to "preserve the gains that girls sports have made under the Title IX federal law."
"For that reason, this bill is absolutely necessary to preserve girls’ rights and womens’ rights in the state of Arkansas to compete on a level playing field," Irvin said.
According to the legislation, girls who feel they have been deprived of "an athletic opportunity," or suffer "direct or indirect harm" from competing alongside transgender girls could seek injunctive relief, including monetary damages
Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, spoke against the legislation, saying she fears the bill would violate the constitutional rights of transgender women and girls to equal protection under the law.
"Efforts to ban trans girls especially, but also trans women from the ability to participate in athletics and be on a team and get the benefits of all the advantages that athletics brings, jeopardized their mental health, their physical well-being and their access to education," Dickson said.
According to the bill any intercollegiate, intramural or club athletic team that is “expressly designed for females, women or girls” cannot accept participants who are transgender girls or women.
Furthermore, state entities like accrediting organizations or athletic associations are not allowed to accept gender-bias complaints, open an investigation or take other "adverse" actions against a school that does ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, questioned whether that meant no girl athletes at a school, including cisgender athletes, would be able to file a gender discrimination complaint.
"What you’re saying is that this is fairness in sports for women and at the same time, you say that you can’t accept a complaint concerning gender bias? You can’t take any other adverse action against the school if there is not fairness in women’s sports," Chesterfield asked.
Matt Sharp with the conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, said the point of that particular language is to protect schools who do ban transgender women from competing in girls’ sports.
"We don’t want schools being punished for following this law, and that is all [this is] doing. It’s saying that the government entity can’t open an investigation or accept a complaint against a school for following this law," Sharp said.
Some people against the legislation could be heard shouting “shame” after the bill passed. The legislation now goes to the full Senate for a vote.