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Bill restricting transgender athletes passes Montana House, Senate

Sports at the Legislature
Posted at 1:21 PM, Apr 23, 2021

HELENA -- House Bill 112, which would block transgender female student-athletes from women's and girls sports, is headed to the governor's desk after the Montana House and Senate both passed the bill on Friday.

The House voted 60-39 to approve HB 112 on its third reading on Friday, while the Senate voted 27-23 to send the bill to Gov. Greg Gianforte's desk.

HB 112 would require public schools and colleges to designate their athletic teams specifically for male athletes, for female athletes or as mixed, based on "biological sex." It would block transgender women and girls from participating in competitions designated for female athletes.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. John Fuller, a Republican from Whitefish.

Supporters of the bill have argued that transgender athletes maintain innate physical advantages over other female athletes, even after beginning hormone therapy. They said HB 112 was intended to create a level playing field for women and girls to compete.

But opponents of HB 112 said it was discriminatory against transgender people and would essentially block them from receiving the same benefits of participating in organized sports. Opponents have said if HB 112 becomes law it will likely be challenged in court.

Few issues have been reported in connection with transgender athletes competing in Montana high school sports. In fact, issues are so rare at the high school level that the Montana High School Association doesn’t even have a transgender policy. MHSA executive director Mark Beckman said he believes Montana is one of only six states without a policy.

At the college level, the University of Montana’s June Eastwood made history in 2019 as the first male-to-female transgender athlete to compete in an NCAA Division I cross country race, and then won the mile at the 2020 Big Sky Conference women’s indoor track and field championships.

The NCAA does have a policy in place to allow transgender athletes to compete. A trans female athlete can compete on a women’s team only after completing one year of testosterone suppression treatment. The NAIA has a similar policy in place.

The NCAA Board of Governors recently released a statement in support of trans athletes, indicating that the NCAA would pull championship events from states that pass laws restricting trans athlete participation. In Montana, championship events would include Montana and Montana State playoff football games.

"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 NCAA's statement read. "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."

Montana is just one of a number of states considering bills to ban transgender athletes from women's and girls school sports. According to The Associated Press, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi have approved similar laws this year, while Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed similar bills this week.