Updated October 17 at 6:05 PM: This story has been updated to reflect the Texas House vote.
Legislation barring transgender children from participating in K-12 sports on teams that align with their gender identity gained final approval in the Texas House Sunday afternoon, and now awaits the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott to become law.
The measure initially passed Thursday evening in the House and then passed with revisions in the Senate on Friday, despite impassioned speeches and legislative efforts by El Paso lawmakers to derail the measure.
Abbott is expected to sign the bill, and made measures targeting transgender children a legislative priority on special session agendas.
“I’m scared for the very brave but very vulnerable trans Texans who are standing up despite the risks, and I’m ashamed that we’re adding to those risks instead of lifting these young people up,” state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said Thursday night during debate on the measure.
House Bill 25 mandates that transgender children participate in school sports on teams aligned with their “biological sex,” which Republican lawmakers argue is the sex assigned at or near the time of birth on a child’s birth certificate.
The term “biological sex” is considered inaccurate and problematic by some medical experts and LGBTQ+ advocates, who say that viewing sex as binary and unchanging isn’t backed up by science and contributes to transphobia.
The bill text says the measure is intended to redress past discrimination against girls in athletics. Similar legislation died in the House three times prior to the Thursday vote, when it passed 76-54 after nearly 12 hours on the House floor. It passed 19-12 in the Senate.
El Paso lawmakers spoke passionately in opposition to the measure in the House and presented an amendment and a point of order in their efforts to kill the bill.
“If you have ever come up to this mic and said, ‘I want children to be safe, I want children to be healthy, I want children to be happy’ … ask yourself in this moment — were you only talking about some kids?” state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, said as she introduced an amendment that would have functionally killed the bill. “Are you really OK with putting some kids at risk?”
In April, El Paso families caravanned to the state Capitol to testify against a range of bills presented in the regular legislative session targeting transgender children.
Regardless of whether HB 25 becomes law, anti-trans legislative proposals have already affected El Paso trans students and their families.
“I don’t think that they realize just how much they are taking from these children,” El Pasoan Lori Edwards said last week. Edwards’ 14-year-old transgender daughter has already experienced mental health impacts from state legislative efforts. “For her, it’s an attack on her. It’s an attack on her character, … on her ability to breathe.”
Her daughter already stopped participating in school sports in order to avoid potential conflict, she said.
“It’s not just transgender kids watching us, it’s all kids,” Moody said during Thursday’s debate, noting that his son William was watching.
In remarks against the bill, LGBTQ+ lawmaker state Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, spoke about how she considered suicide as a 17-year-old who had yet to come out of the closet. She argued the measure would lead to suicide and mental health harm for young transgender Texans.
The Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ youths, said the legislation could negatively impact the mental health of young people who are already at heightened risk of suicide. The Trevor Project found that more than half of participants who identified as transgender or nonbinary had seriously contemplated suicide in 2021. A staggering 94% of LGBTQ+ youths participating in the national survey said that recent politics had negatively impacted their mental health.
LGBTQ+ rights advocates have said that anti-trans legislation could incite more violence against transgender individuals. Nationally, the last two years have been the deadliest on record for transgender and gender nonconforming people, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has tracked anti-trans violence since 2013.
HB 25 comes as part of a record-breaking year for legislation targeting transgender people nationwide. In the last two years, nine states have implemented laws that bar trans student athletes from competing in sports based on their gender identity. In Texas, Republican lawmakers filed 76 anti-LGBTQ+ laws in 2021, 50 of which were specifically directed at transgender children.
Proponents of HB 25 have said the measure is needed to protect cisgender girls from having to compete against transgender girls, who they say have an unfair biological advantage in athletics. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. The use of the term was a source of contention on the House floor, when some Republican lawmakers repeatedly said they did not understand its meaning, even after extensive explanation.
“Girls should not be mere spectators in their own sports,” state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, said during her closing remarks on Thursday. Other Republican lawmakers invoked a religious basis for the bill, including state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, who read a passage from the Book of Genesis on the House floor late Thursday.
The bill’s opponents have noted that not even Swanson, the bill’s author, has been able to cite an incident where a K-12 athlete was harmed or unfairly affected by a trans student’s participation in a sports team. Lawmakers who have proposed similar legislation in other states were largely unable to cite problems with trans student athletes’ participation in sports.
“This isn’t a real issue about girl’s sports,” Moody said. “That’s been laid bare time and again today. It’s a culture war. And wars have casualties. Today, those are the children in the crosshairs of this bill.”
Cover photo: Demonstrators gathered outside the Texas Capitol on Oct. 13 in opposition to House Bill 25. (Photo by Sarah Labowitz, courtesy the American Civil Liberties Union)