Sharp debate over proposed ban on trans girls playing female sports

The sponsor and one citizen advocate made up those backing a ban on those born as boys from playing on girl sports teams during a House hearing Tuesday; transgender athletes, their parents and several citizen groups opposed it.

CONCORD — Competitive sports collided with gender identity freedom Tuesday over a bill to ban anyone born male from playing on high school or college sports teams for females.

House Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, said letting transgender girls compete with biological girls violated the spirit of the federal Title IX law that outlaws sex discrimination in sports.

“If an athlete’s mere claim that he is male or vice versa suffices, then that means the term sex used in Title IX is rendered useless,” Ladd said of his bill (HB 198). “It is the (biological) girls who are being discriminated against.”

Abi Maxwell said her trans daughter, 8, asked recently if she would be able to ski race against girls in the future.

“She lives with the knowledge that some people won’t like her because of who she is,” said Maxwell, who choked back tears giving her testimony against the bill.

“Transgender is a rare, but wonderful thing. She will not race with the boys. To ask her to is an act of bullying or exclusion.”

Lane Joslin, 16, of Exeter, said she’s been competing on girls soccer teams since her social transition from male back in the fifth grade.

“Not one of my teammates knew I was transgender, and I can guarantee that had they known, none of them cared,” Joslin said.

Her mother, Barbara MacLeod of Portsmouth, said the Legislature can expect parents will unite to sue the state if this bill ever becomes law.

“When I hear legislators in New Hampshire discuss transgender people saying they are ‘pretending’ to be girls or ‘claiming’ to be girls, I realize there is a lot of education that needs to be done,” MacLeod said.

“It’s very insulting to hear that kind of talk.”

50 districts have policies

Several progressive legal advocates argued letting transgender athletes compete is consistent with Title IX. It also was affirmed with the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in the case of Bostock (Ga.) vs. Clayton County.

“This extreme policy violates the U.S. Constitution, the federal human rights law, puts at risk the loss of federal education grants and it will lead to large litigation costs,” said Jeanne Hruska, political director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Hampshire chapter.

Opponents also said the bill, if adopted, would run counter to a 2018 law Gov. Chris Sununu signed that banned discrimination based on gender identity.

Palana Belken, a Rochester city councilor, said her research found 50 school districts, covering 40% of all public school students, adopted their own policies for transgender students. Not a single complaint has been brought against a transgender athlete in New Hampshire, she said.

James Porter, a member of the Manchester school board, said he has seen transgender athletes thrive in his two decades as a cross-country and track coach.

“I’ve seen parents cry because for the first time in their life, their kid felt a connection with other kids,” Porter said.

New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association regulations leave it up to each school board to decide the eligibility of transgender students. The students are required to apply at least two months before the sport’s season begins.

Several transgender athletes disputed the claim that those born as boys have a competitive edge over girls in sports.

“I’ve been in the same sports before and after the transition,” said Emily McDougall of Dover, describing herself as a “slightly below average” runner as a young boy and later as a trans girl.

The state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, New Hampshire Medical Society and New Hampshire Psychiatric Society, the New Hampshire Legislative Youth Advisory Council and New Hampshire Women’s Foundation opposed the bill.

During the two-hour hearing, Beth Scaer of Nashua was the only member of the public to testify in favor of the bill.

“We deserve better than to have our spaces and sports taken over from boys and men. No one is telling these kids they can’t compete in sports,” summed up Scaer, a citizen activist.

“We are telling male-bodied people to please, stick with your own sports, your own spaces. We don’t need you in ours.”