Republicans hope to make Virginia the next state to ban trans youth from sports

Elementary student sitting away from her classmates and teacher and feeling sad during physical education class.
Photo: Shutterstock

“Currently, we too often are looking to division rather than unity,” Virginia Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R) tweeted on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, “and it is time that we, as Americans, attempt to heal our nation rather than continue to divide us.” In the tweet before, Kiggans added a campaign-paid for graphic of King with a quote, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Just four days later, she introduced Senate Bill 766, which seeks to ban trans girls and women from participating in school-based sports activities according to their gender.

S.B. 766, first reported by the Washington Blade, calls for amending the Virginia Code to add a section dedicated to “Athletics; participation in female sports.”

“All athletic teams or squads at a school, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, shall designate each such team based on biological sex,” Kiggans’ bill reads. It defines the three options that school athletic programs will be allowed to use, all based on “biological sex,” as “Males,” “men,” or “boys”; “Females,” “women,” or “girls”; or “Coed” or “mixed.”

It then states, “Male students shall not be permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls.'” It gives students and schools grounds for civil action if they “suffer” from “any direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation” of the law.

S.B. 766’s wording mimics other states around the country that have recently banned trans girls and women from participating in sports programs in school or organized by state-funded, although other bills tend to ban trans youth altogether.

Since 2020, ten states with Republican-led legislatures or GOP governors have passed some form of ban on trans youth in sports: Idaho, South Dakota (multiple times), Mississippi, Arkansas, AlabamaTennessee, Montana, West Virginia, Florida, and Texas. Many more proposed bills that ultimately failed to enact similar bans, but 2021 became the year with the most anti-LGBTQ legislation based on advocates’ tracking.

Some bans, including Idaho’s, Florida’s, Tennessee’s and West Virginia’s, are being challenged in court and may not survive judicial review.

Kiggans is currently the sole patron of the bill. It has been referred to the Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health, which is currently chaired by Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D), the President pro Tempore of the Senate, which maintains a slight Democrat majority. However, Republicans have regained a slight majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, and new Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R) presides over the Senate as president of the chamber.

Kiggans may have been motivated to submit the proposal after facing conservative backlash because she has previously voted in favor of trans rights, but she is now running for the U.S. House representing Virginia’s second congressional district in 2022.

Self-described “American First right” media publication National File denounced Kiggans in an article in October 2021 for “voting with the radical left for the… legislation that kicked off the state’s school crisis,” the Virginia Values Act of 2020, which they inaccurately claim led to “opening girls’ restrooms up to men and forcing school districts to adopt radical, pro-trans policies against the demands of parents.”

The Act, which was passed overwhelmingly in the Senate in 2020 with a bipartisan vote and signed into law by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D), banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including public facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms.

The National File claimed the law is a “far-left legislation” that rewrote previous anti-discrimination law “in the image of the LGBT lobby.” They further denounced Kiggans in other articles as “establishment” or “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and suggest she’s hypocritical for claiming to support parental rights in comparison to her 2022 primary opponents.

Kiggans was narrowly elected in 2018 by beating out former state Del. Cheryl Turpin (D) by a difference that was under 1 percent of the vote.

While S.B. 766 faces an uphill battle in the Virginia General Assembly, new Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) not only voiced support for such a proposal during his campaign, but made a point of opposing any LGBTQ rights — including marriage equality, despite it being the law of the land. While Youngkin has out people on staff, he has appointed numerous anti-LGBTQ activists to positions in his government, including former Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz. She is now the Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction in the Virginia Department of Education.

The bill already has opposition from civil rights organizations, progressives and activists. “Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia chapter tweeted this weekend. “We won’t tolerate this.”

“More transphobic legislation introduced in Virginia,” the Virginia People’s Party also tweeted. “Contact your #VAPol legislators and tell them to vote NO!”

In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Biden’s views on the bills, and she brought up Biden’s executive order that he signed on his first day in office that said that federal civil rights legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sex also bans anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

“The anti-discrimination executive order that the president signed is focused on children being able to learn without worrying about whether they will be discriminated against,” she said, “and this means not being denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

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