P&C: SC House panel shelves bill to ban transgender athletes from girls’ sports

COLUMBIA — A S.C. House panel shelved a GOP-led proposal on March 16 that would prevent participation in girls’ middle and high school sports by transgender athletes, with one Republican calling it deceptively worded.

Known as the “Save Women’s Sport Act,” the measure raised concerns among opponents that such a move would be unconstitutional and marginalize the state’s LGBTQ population.

Despite support from the influential S.C. Family Caucus, H. 3477 was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee.

S.C. Rep. Micah Caskey, R-West Columbia, told The Post and Courier he voted to shelve the bill because he thought its definition of gender was too simplistic and failed to take into account science used by sports organizations to determine eligibility.

He also was worried over lost economic opportunities if the bill passed, a concern raised by some Republicans in 2016 when lawmakers considered a proposal to restrict public bathroom use by transgender people.

While the bill’s chances in the House are dwindling, a companion bill awaits in the Senate.

Twice in the past five years, waivers have been granted in South Carolina to transgender women seeking spots on a girls’ team, South Carolina High School Sports League officials have said. None have been issued for transgender men, though two such requests have been made.

Similar legislation has been introduced in conservative-majority statehouses around the nation, where it has run into legal challenges and civil rights complaints. In August 2020, a federal judge ruled that transgender women and girls in Idaho can’t be barred from competing in sports based on their gender identity, overruling that state’s Legislature.

Ivy Hill, program director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said the bill sent a “poisonous message across the state.”

“Our collective message today was a powerful reminder to trans youth. That they are loved, cared for and supported,” Hill said in a statement.

Caskey, the only South Carolina lawmaker on the committee who spoke ahead of the March 16 vote, said he received word of a screening video sent to the Charleston Visitors Bureau from USA Weightlifting. One of its requirements is if potential host sites have discriminatory practices, Caskey told The Post and Courier following the vote.

“Ultimately, if we’re going to go down this road and do this sort of thing, I don’t know why we wouldn’t adopt scientifically-based protocols that have been established by the NCAA and International Olympic Committee,” Caskey said. Both those organizations have guidelines to allow for transgender competition.

Among opponents to her bill was S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who made a surprise appearance at a subcommittee hearing earlier this month to lobby against it.

“I know how important athletics is to what we’re trying to do in our public schools across South Carolina,” Spearman said March 3. “My responsibility as state superintendent is to make sure every child feels protected when they are in school and when they are on the athletic field, and I believe this bill does damage to that.”

State Rep. John McCravy, a Greenwood Republican who chairs the Family Caucus, said House lawmakers will re-file the bill next session.

“We will come back with this bill, because it’s what our constituents in South Carolina want us to do,” McCravy told The Post and Courier.

Bill sponsor Pelzer Republican Ashley Trantham added after the hearing, “This isn’t the first time women have had to fight for equality. Today’s defeat was just the beginning of a bigger battle that will be won.”

Still, an identical bill to Trantham’s, sponsored by state Sen. Richard Cash, R-Anderson, is awaiting action by the Senate Education Committee.

Roughly 3 percent of all South Carolina adults are LGBTQ though just how many are transgender is unknown, but a 2019 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey showed that 2 percent of school students identify as transgender.

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