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SC bill aims to ban transgender students from girls sports teams

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South Carolina lawmakers hope to pass a bill that would limit how transgender students can participate in high school sports. File/John Carlos

A group of South Carolina lawmakers is hoping to pass legislation that would block transgender high school students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. 

The bill, known as the "Save Women's Sports Act," would require student athletes to play on sports teams based on their biological sex. 

Rep. Ashley Trantham, R-Greenville, held a press conference to announce her support for the bill on Wednesday. 

“Men will always have physical advantages over girls. That's the reason we have women's sports. When males compete in girls' sports, equal opportunity is destroyed,” Trantham said during Wednesday's Statehouse press conference.

But LGBTQ advocates have been quick to criticize the bill, arguing that it discriminates against trans students. 

"It would basically send a strong message to transgender student athletes, and transgender students period, that they're inferior to other students in their school," said Jeff Ayers, the executive director of SC Equality. "They face enough discrimination on a daily basis."

The bill was introduced in the Senate last month. 

Sen. Richard Cash, R-Anderson, is its primary sponsor. 

"It's a fairness issue. I think to most people it's pretty obvious that it's unfair to allow young men to compete against young women from a biological point of view," Cash said.

If necessary, students must produce their birth certificate to establish their biological sex, according to the bill.

Cash and other lawmakers have cited a 2016 memo issued by the S.C. High School League that allows South Carolina transgender students to participate in league activities that correspond with their gender identity. Transgender athletes were not mentioned in the league's 100-page handbook, and a representative for the SCHSL was not immediately able to confirm if such a policy existed. 

Cash said he wasn't aware of any specific instances where transgender students have hindered female athletes from fairly competing in South Carolina but said he'd read news reports where it has been an issue in other states.

"I am trying to prevent that from happening," he said. 

In recent years, transgender women have frequently cropped up in national sports news. A transgender weightlifter from New Zealand made headlines last month as she continued her bid toward competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Other states have filed similar bills, Ayers said, including one that passed in Arizona earlier this week.

Chase Glenn, the executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, a Charleston-based LGBTQ nonprofit, said this bill was addressing a "manufactured problem." 

He argued that there is a small percentage of people who identify as transgender in South Carolina and an even smaller percentage that are also interested in playing sports.

"To me, this looks like making trans youth political pawns to push an agenda during an election year, taking vulnerable children who are already at risk and targeting them for no real reason," Glenn said. 

Ayers agreed.

"All they're trying to do is create an issue that doesn't exist," he said, adding that he doesn't think the bill will find any success this year.

The bill was sent to the Education Committee, where it hasn't yet come up for debate.

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

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