ATLANTA – Controversial legislation aimed at preventing transgender public school students from competing in girls’ sports in Georgia cleared a state Senate committee Wednesday.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

The “Save Girls’ Sports Act” would prohibit biological boys from competing with biological girls, with biology defined as a student’s gender listed on their birth certificate.

“This bill is about fairness,” Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, the bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

“Boys have certain biological advantages when it comes to sports. … It’s simply not fair to force biological girls to compete against biological boys.”

To illustrate his point, Harbin said more than 1,400 males have run the mile in fewer than four minutes, while no female has ever accomplished the feat. He said biological high school girls forced to compete against transgender girls lose college scholarship opportunities they might have had otherwise.

But Democrats on the committee said the bill would single out transgender students as different and further endanger a group that already suffers a disproportionate amount of verbal abuse and physical attacks.

“We see transgender students considering suicide at substantial rates higher than other students,” said Sen. Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta.

Halpern and others argued the state shouldn’t wade into deciding who can compete on which high school sports teams and leave those decisions up to individual schools.

The committee passed a similar bill sponsored by Harbin last year, but the measure failed to reach the Senate floor.

Harbin said 10 states have adopted legislation governing participation of transgender students in sports.

But Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said several of those states are facing lawsuits claiming the legislation is unconstitutional because it discriminates against transgender students.

A ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected later this year on a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that prohibits transgender male students from using boys’ bathrooms.

The committee approved Harbin’s bill Wednesday in a 6-4 vote along party lines. The legislation now moves to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.