West Virginia’s Jim Justice Wednesday became the latest governor to sign an anti-transgender sports bill into law.
The legislation, House Bill 3293, states that students in public schools and state colleges and universities are to be assigned to sports teams based on their birth gender, and that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex where selection for such teams is based upon competitive skill or the activity involved is a contact sport.”
Numerous states are considering such bills, based on the belief that trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage over cisgender ones — something disputed by scientists and activists. They have been passed by legislatures and signed into law by governors this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee in addition to West Virginia. The governor of South Dakota has issued executive orders with the same effect, while governors in Kansas and North Dakota have vetoed similar legislation. A trans-exclusionary sports law enacted in Idaho last year is blocked because of a court challenge.
Justice, a Republican, said this week that he’d be proud to sign West Virginia’s sports bill, even if the National Collegiate Athletic Association might retaliate by not holding events in the state, the Associated Press reports. The NCAA has said this is a possibility in states with anti-trans laws, and some West Virginia legislators expressed concern about that when the state’s Senate added colleges and universities to the measure.
Earlier in the month, Justice said, “Personally, I feel that absolutely, I just can’t get through my head that it is the right thing for us at a middle school level or a high school level in our state for me to not support the bill.”
Civil rights activists denounced the governor’s action. “Transgender children are children. They deserve the ability to play organized sports and be part of a team, just like all children,” said a statement from Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “[Neither] Gov. Justice nor the legislators who voted to pass the bill can name a single example of a transgender child trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage, which underscores that this is nothing more than a politically motivated bill for the sake of discrimination itself. By signing this cruel and discriminatory legislation, Gov. Jim Justice is not only hurting the health and safety of transgender children, but also West Virginians who will suffer the consequences of this law — including economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation.”
West Virginia is one of 30 states where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been introduced this session. There are so far more than 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration in state legislatures, according to HRC’s latest count. Of those, more than 120 directly target transgender people and about half of those (66 bills) would bar transgender girls and women from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, said in a press release. “Six states have now implemented anti-trans sports bans, and we know it’s not because they care about ‘fairness’ in women’s sports. Lawmakers are sending a clear message that they don’t value trans lives and would prefer we did not exist entirely. The Trevor Project has been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth across our crisis services who are scared and anxious about the implications of these cruel policies. We will continue to fight for them and work to promote trans inclusion in athletics and every other level of society.”
The American Civil Liberties Union promised legal action.