Oklahoma debates transgender sports bill as NCAA throws down warning shot

By Michael Kinney

Quietly last week Oklahoma legislators began debating a possible new bill that could change secondary education sports programs going forward. It began in one of the most unlikely of places, the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee.

The committee was scheduled to discuss a bill on school finance April 8. But at the last minute, it was replaced with debate on transgender student-athletes competing in women’s sports.

Senate Bill 2 or the Save the Women’s Sports Act was put authored by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin). The act states, “Athletic teams designated for ‘females,’ ‘women’ or ‘girls’ shall not be open to students of the male sex.”

“Two out of every five young women in the state of Oklahoma choose to participate in sports,” Hasenbeck said. “And I’m trying to prevent those women from being denied opportunities when they have to compete against male-bodied athletes.”

Opponents of the Save the Women’s Sports Act said the bill is an attack on the transgender community. They point to the fact that the OSSAA, the governing body for high school sports, already has a policy in place that requires a trans athlete wishing to compete in sports as their non-bio-gender, to undergo a year of hormone therapy before beginning competition.

Hasenbeck said the bill is not meant to attack transgender athletes but to protect women’s sports.

“Typically, male rib cages are larger,” Hasenbeck said. “It allows for larger hearts. It allows for larger lungs—therefore an increased cardiovascular capacity that also creates more oxygen in your blood. It causes you to be able to lift more weight, run faster, jump higher. And then even on a muscular level, those myofibrils that belong to men behave differently when activated by nerves and other chemicals in the body.”

Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC) doesn’t see it that way. The only Democrat on the five-person House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, Turner questioned why their group was even seeing the bill.

Hasenbeck responded that it was a paperwork snafu and that it was originally supposed to go to the State’s Rights committee.

Regardless, the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee passed SB 2 with a 4-1 vote. Turner was the only dissenting vote.

“Denying the existence of trans children is absolutely absurd,” said Turner, who is the only openly non-binary state-level lawmaker in the nation. “This is a clear message to the youth, to the parents, to myself, about how we are not welcome and we are not valid. But representative Hasenbeck doesn’t have the power to tell us that. I think about our LGBTQ+ students and those rates of suicide, and those rates of suicide attempts. I think about being that child.” 

SB 2 is now headed to the House floor for discussion. Depending on court challenges, if it passes the House and Senate and is signed into law, it will become effective July 1.

According to Savewomenssports.com, Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have already passed similar bills. But more than 30 other state legislations have the “Save Women’s Sports Act” under consideration.

Monday the NCAA released a statement that supported transgender athletes. But it also could be seen as a warning to the states who have passed bills or thinking about passing what they believe are anti-transgender legislation.

“The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” the  NCAA said in a statement . “This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition. We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them.

Oklahoma normally plays host to several NCAA events each year. A possible ban of the state could affect everything from men’s and women’s basketball to the annual Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the statement said. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

Copy & Photo by Michael Kinney Media

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