This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

A bill that would exclude transgender girls from their school’s sports teams was criticized as cruel and flagged as possibly illegal in a Georgia House committee meeting Tuesday.

The proposed law would bar public schools and private schools that compete against them from fielding a player assigned as a male at birth on a girls’ team. The legislation includes Georgia’s public colleges and gives students who miss out on athletic opportunities because of a violation the ability to sue their school system or school.

Subcommittee chairman Will Wade, a Dawsonville Republican, said he wanted to meet with the bill’s author, Sharpsburg Republican Rep. Philip Singleton, to discuss changes before the bill moves forward.

Singleton said his intent is not to discriminate, but to protect girls from unfair competition.

“Giving a biological man the ability to compete against biological women is bad for our girls,” he said. “It’s bad for our children. And it’s something that we have to protect those rights of those individuals.”

Others at the hearing said the bill is an attempt to single out transgender girls, a group that already faces discrimination.

Kennesaw’s Jen Slipakoff says her transgender daughter plays lacrosse at a private school in Cobb County. If Singleton’s bill became law, the 13-year-old would miss out on more than just the chance to compete, she said.

“That’s her gaggle of friends, they all play, she wants to play too,” Slipakoff said. “She’s learning leadership skills, she’s learning hand-eye coordination, all these things. I talked to her coach yesterday, and she said this is not just a team, it’s a sisterhood, and I think that’s important to understand. This is not just about throwing and catching, there’s another component that is just as important.”

Slipakoff, who ran as a Democrat against Powder Springs Republican state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart in 2018, said her daughter would not be comfortable playing on the boys’ team, where she would be outsized by the competition and potentially subject to jeers from the crowd.

“I haven’t told her that this is happening, she has no idea,” Slipakoff said. “It would be devastating. It would be cruel.”

Rep. Becky Evans, an Atlanta Democrat, asked Singleton how many girls in Georgia have been harmed by an athlete who was assigned as a male at birth.

Singleton did not name any people from Georgia, but said it has been an issue in other states.

“We don’t, as a Legislature, wait until we have a bunch of young women that come up who have been hurt and damaged and their lives have been changed negatively because we as a Legislature failed to properly enact Title IX protection and protect women’s sports,” he said. “I strongly disagree with the supposition that we should wait for these young women to be hurt in Georgia.”

Law would isolate transgender women

Making the bill law could hurt young transgender women, said Roland Behm, board chair for the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

More than one in three transgender Georgia students between grades six and 12 attempted suicide in the past 12 months, Behm said, compared with one in 20 for those grade levels as a whole.

“Sports participation provides students with opportunities to develop a sense of belonging, connectedness and contribution,” he said. “Social support and connection are key protective factors against suicide.”

Supporters of Singleton’s legislation said it’s a matter of fair play and that it recognizes the physiological differences between men and women.

“This is about fact, it’s about fundamental fairness, it’s about competition,” said Cole Muzio, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia. “It’s about all the little girls around our state that are participating, that are playing, they have aspirations, to make sure that they have a fair field of play. That’s what this bill is about.”

The Georgia High School Association, which oversees intramural sports in the state, accepts the gender of athletes as described by local school districts, said Executive Director Robin Hines, who declined to take a side.

“We’ve had this conversation over the years in the past, and the association has been comfortable doing what it is that we’re doing right now,” he said. “We very much wish to be apolitical.”

Legal challenges loom

The Georgia School Boards Association opposes the bill on legal grounds, Director of Policy and Legislative Services Angela Palm wrote in an email to committee members, citing the Title IX federal discrimination law and changes proposed by the Biden administration.

The portion of the bill giving athletes the ability to sue would put school districts in a no-win situation between lawsuits in federal and state courts, she added.

The bill is similar to a law from Idaho, which has been blocked by a federal judge while a lawsuit is decided.

Georgia’s bill would likely also face legal challenges, said Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director for LGBTQ legal organization Lambda Legal.

“We think it would be a big waste of government resources – this is the kind of litigation we do, of course, we can do it – but we are concerned because when official bodies and civic leaders adopt these policies, about excluding transgender people, and generally it is about excluding transgender girls, that’s harmful,” she said. “These efforts by civic leaders reinforce the stigma, the disrespect, the false narratives about what transgender people are, and that’s harmful.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business...