HELENA — Advocates and students gathered in Helena Monday to protest against a bill that would put limits on transgender athletes in school sports.
About 30 people attended the protest against House Bill 112, led by the Associated Students of the University of Montana and the Associated Students of Montana State University.
HB 112 would require high school and college athletes in interscholastic, intramural or club sports to compete based on their “biological sex.” It would prevent transgender female athletes from participating in competitions or on teams designated for girls or women. Supporters of the bill have said those athletes maintain an innate physical advantage even after undergoing gender transition treatment.
However, those participating in Monday’s event said transgender athletes aren’t causing problems in women’s sports – and are being targeted unfairly.
“Trans people are the new boogeymen,” said Adrian Jawort. “Our trans youth do need protecting, however, and that’s from overreaching politicians who bring up these anti-trans bills of alleged solutions looking for problems.”
Lucy Hochschartner is a former collegiate ski racer and now a top-level competitor in biathlon, training with the Crosscut Elite Team based out of Bozeman. She described herself as an ally and said transgender athletes shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to compete and to build connections through organized sports. She said HB 112 was unnecessarily divisive.
“If you are or ever were a female athlete, you are being used, and that doesn’t feel good,” she said. “You are being used as a weapon against trans people.”
Rae Gordon is the captain of the University of Montana’s women’s club ultimate frisbee team, PillowFight, and identifies as nonbinary. Gordon said the restrictions on transgender athletes would create a gray area for nonbinary people, who don't identify as male or female. They said HB 112 was intrusive, and that some students would simply quit sports if these requirements were added.
“If it was an unsafe space for me to be participating in the sport, my identification and my safety and advocacy for myself matters way more than my sport – but my sport is so important to me, and it’s heartbreaking that I have to choose between a team that matters to me, that I care about, and my own gender autonomy,” Gordon said.
Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, who is sponsoring HB 112 told MTN Monday that it isn’t blocking transgender athletes from competing. “Sports has categories for age, weight, skill level, and in this case sex,” he said. “A transgender male or female can participate in the sport of their sex, and in today’s world, no one cares what they look like.”
Montana is one of several states considering this type of legislation this year. In response, the NCAA issued a statement last week, indicating it opposed restricting transgender participation and that it would consider pulling championship events from states that wouldn’t “commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” That might include UM and MSU playoff football games if HB 112 becomes law.
Currently, the NCAA allows transgender female athletes to participate in women’s sports, but only after receiving hormone treatments for gender transition. On Monday, Fuller blasted the NCAA’s statement, calling them an “athletic cabal” that should be sued for threatening the state.
The Montana House and Senate have both passed different versions of HB 112. The Senate’s version includes an amendment that would void the bill if the U.S. Department of Education issued a “letter of impending enforcement action” saying it violated federal anti-discrimination rules.
The bill is set to be heard this week by a conference committee, which will work on a final version. If they agree on one, the House and Senate will both have to pass it again. The conference committee is currently expected to meet Tuesday at noon, but Fuller said it may be moved as the Legislature tries to meet other deadlines.