Senate to vote on GOP bill banning trans youth from girls’ sports, backers claim they’re protecting cis girls who train hard and ‘watch their diet’

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, tries to explain why her legislation banning trans youth from participating in girls' sports isn't anti-trans during a May 2, 2022 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Update: It sounds like the amendments, debate and a vote on Senate Bill 140 has been pushed back to the start of next week. Important to note that the Senate also has the operating budget on the floor, which is an actually important piece of legislation.

Original story: The Republican-controlled Alaska Senate is poised to vote on legislation that would ban transgender girls from participating in women’s athletics, despite its sponsor being unable to name any instance where it’s ever been an issue in Alaska or why it would warrant ignoring the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause.

At a hearing on Monday in the House Judiciary Committee, Senate Bill 140 sponsor Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes claimed that the legislation—which mirrors a wave of bills capitalizing on conservative outrage aimed at transgender youth—isn’t discriminatory against transgender athletes and merely aimed at protecting young women who train hard and “watch their diet.”

The bill is set for debate and a vote on Thursday.

The legislation would require athletes participating in public K-12 sports or competing with public K-12 schools to disclose their sex to schools by providing a copy of their birth certificate. Student athletes would be sorted by the sex on their birth certificate into sports. It would specifically bar any male student or trans female student from participating is cisgender girls’ sports, giving them the option to only participate in boys-only sports or co-ed sports regardless of their gender. It wouldn’t place the same limitation on trans male students, who would be allowed to participate in boys’ sports.

“Establishing this policy now as we currently don’t have any student athletes, to my knowledge, that are involved,” Hughes said. “It’s good, I think, for our young girls, our young women to know that if they work hard, train and do all the things that young girls do whether it’s get out there and work out, watch their diet, et cetera, that it will all not be for naught.”

She claimed that it’s not discriminatory because trans girls would still have a separate, equal option to participate in sports.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, was the lone member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against moving the bill. He said it raised a slew of constitutional issues when it comes to the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause and had the impact of drawing unnecessary attention and ire to transgender youth.

“What we have is a bill in search of a problem to solve,” he said, “We’ve created an instrument so blunt it runs afoul of Alaska’s constitution. It does require disclosures of personal information of high school trans girls in ways that are simply not comparable to asking if you have a clean bill of health and did you get good grades?”

Kiehl referenced a lengthy legal opinion by the legislature’s legal team that says in no uncertain terms that the legislation is deeply problematic and raises several constitutional concerns, including how it singles out trans girls from participating in girls sports while it doesn’t do the same to trans boys.

The Republican-controlled Senate Education and Judiciary committees, both of which are chaired by Anchorage Republican Sen. Roger Holland, have never offered the Legislature’s legal team an opportunity to testify on their legal memo or answer questions. Instead, Holland has only invited far-right attorneys who’ve supported this legislation. That includes Matt Sharp, an attorney for the anti-LGTBQ Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued that the state’s privacy law is not as strong as people think. Sharp does not practice law in Alaska.

Sponsors and backers of the legislation also argue that it doesn’t violate the privacy of the individuals because it only requires them to provide a copy of their birth certificate to schools. The legal memo that they’ve been unwilling to engage with says that’s still a problem.

“To the extent … SB 140 requires disclosure to a school or others of a student’s biological sex or transgender status, or requires a student to produce records or other evidence of the student’s biological sex, such requirements may violate the student’s right to privacy,” explains the memo, a copy of which is at the bottom of this post. “Further, requiring a transgender female to participate in an athletic team or sport designated male will require the student to publicly disclose the student’s transgender status, which may also violate the student’s right to privacy.”

It also notes that the Alaska Constitution’s right to privacy is far more firm than the U.S. Constitution.

Given the legislation has been scheduled for a floor vote, it’s likely that there are already the votes in the GOP-controlled Senate to pass the legislation. It’s believed that it would not pass in the bipartisan House.

About the University of Alaska

The legislation no longer contains a provision that would force the University of Alaska system to abide by the new standards. Hughes said she plans to push for that in the future but backed off after a conversation with the University of Alaska President Pat Pitney.

“She personally said she sees the importance of setting this policy for the university and personally supports it,” Hughes relayed to the committee.

Realistically speaking, the inclusion of the University of Alaska in the legislation created unknown costs for the state because it would hamper the university’s ability to participate in the NCAA and host NCAA tournaments and competitions. Asked if Hughes’ statements about Pitney’s position on the legislation was true, UA spokesperson Robbie Graham provided the following statement:

“President Pitney supports a final resolution to this issue, which is being debated in many states across the country, and will likely be settled by the courts.”

Legal memo

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