The Daily Gamecock

'They don't care about women's sports': Trans athlete ban passes S.C. House

FILE—Exterior of the SC statehouse on Wednesday afternoon, February 28, 2022.
FILE—Exterior of the SC statehouse on Wednesday afternoon, February 28, 2022.

The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed bill last week which would ban transgender women from participating in almost all middle school to college-level women's sports. The bill still needs to pass the South Carolina Senate and be signed by Gov. Henry McMaster before becoming law. 

The bill titled the "Save Women's Sports Act" says transgender women can not participate in women's sports but allows transgender men to participate in men's sports. This applies to all public schools within the state and any private institution that competes against public schools. 

Any student who "is deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers any direct or indirect harm" because these rules are broken can sue the school for relief or damages, the bill states. 

The Daily Gamecock was unable to reach the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Ashley Trantham, and one of its proponents, Rep. Melissa Oremus, despite repeated attempts.

Currently, transgender athletes can play for intramural or interscholastic athletics teams through a waiver process under the South Carolina High School League. Five transgender athletes have applied for waivers since 2016.

If the legislation is signed into law, South Carolina would join more than a dozen conservative states that have enacted similar legislation in the past year as part of a broader national effort stemming from the national Republican agenda.

The passage of this bill reflects an effort by Republicans to appeal to their conservative constituents on a topic that has been brought to national attention by conservative media outlets such as Fox News, according to Joshua Meyer-Gutbrod, a USC political science professor.

"It's not a great bill policy-wise," Gutbrod said. "The point isn't to create good policy. The point is to appeal to primary constituencies."

A similar bill failed to pass twice last year. Gutbrod said this newer iteration of the bill is gaining more traction because primary elections take place this fall. Gutbrod said lawmakers need to pass legislation that responds to what their party's national agenda prioritizes or else primary challengers to incumbent lawmakers will criticize the incumbents for not responding to what voters care about. 

"These highly-partisan laws tend to be extremely ineffective. They're not really designed to be effective. They're designed to sort of signal and not have a strong impact," Gutbrod said.

Atticus Wolfe, an instructor of the "sex and gender" course at USC, said the bill conflates sex and gender. Wolfe said sex is a biological reality (male, female, intersex, etc.) and social construct, while gender is what someone identifies as such as a man, woman, non-binary person or many others.

"We're kind of merging (sex and gender) together, treating them as one thing that is the same, even though they're totally different. Kind of like gluten-free and vegan," Wolfe said. "They both have to do with diet, but they're not synonymous."

Wolfe said the bill will exacerbate the feelings of exclusion and un-safety transgender children already experience and will normalize transphobia.

"Oftentimes, these policies are passed and the larger public takes them to mean that that they are now correct in subjugating and oppressing other people," Wolfe said.

According to The State, Molly Spearman, the Republican South Carolina superintendent of education, said last year the bill could make transgender children feel unsafe and the legislation is not needed in the state. 

Sasha Sawyer, a chemistry student at USC and a transgender athlete, said the "Save Women's Sports Act" is not involved in the real substantive debate around transgender athletes competing in athletics. Sawyer said the reason the bill exists is to create a toxic environment for transgender people.

"These people, they don't care about women's sports," Sawyer said. "They have legitimate trans hatred and want to capitalize off of that politically."

Sawyer said a tangible rise in transphobia and hatred may come from the passage of the bill.

"They have no idea about the substantive debate here and instead would prefer to just legislate trans people out of sports," Sawyer said.

Sawyer said there is a substantive debate on how athletes should be classified and organized to compete against one another. One solution brought up was to eliminate sex-based distinctions in athletics altogether and instead categorize them by something such as weight class which is already done in boxing.

"Sports need to be a safer place for trans people," Sawyer said. "Sex segregation is something that we should maybe decide against sometimes."