May 4, 2022 - News

Georgia association bans trans athletes from high school teams that match gender identity

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Georgia High School Association voted unanimously Wednesday to effectively ban transgender students from playing on high school teams that reflect their gender identities.

Driving the news: The association, which governs athletics and activities for more than 450 public and private member high schools, voted to change its bylaws to limit a student's gender to the sex assigned on their birth certificates.

Catch up quick: In an 11th hour amendment last month, Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly empowered the association to make this change if it “determines that it is necessary and appropriate."

  • Before, the association deferred to gender determinations made by member schools.

Both Atlanta Public Schools and Clayton County Public Schools tell Axios they will follow GHSA procedures and policies. A Cherokee County schools spokesperson said they're reviewing the new rules.

What they're saying: Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, called the move "troubling" and a "severe restriction that is also taking away the local control of independent schools and school districts." He questioned why the association did not study the issue, rather than "moving quickly based on fear, misinformation and bias."

  • "This has real consequences now. And it will have real consequences going into the next school year,” Graham said.
  • According to a recent poll by the Trevor Project, more than two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth said debates over state laws targeting transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

The other side: Gov. Brian Kemp has been a vocal supporter of the law change. "Marty and I have three daughters, all of them played high school basketball. We simply just want it to be fair. That's all we're doing. It's not anything else that they're saying," Kemp said at a recent campaign event in Carrollton.

Yes, but: Democratic state Rep. Matthew Wilson accused Kemp of using the issue for political gain ahead of his primary.

  • "You don't have to understand LGBTQ issues to spot the sacrificial lamb here. These kids are already going through more than you or I can understand, and more trans kids will try to hurt themselves because of this," Wilson tells Axios.

The big picture: About half of the country allows transgender and nonbinary children to play sports with their friends, said Anne Lieberman, policy and program director at national athletic advocacy group Athlete Ally.

  • Lieberman calls the national wave of legislation targeting trans youth in sports "just another version of the bathroom bill conversation...and it's really based in fear of trans and nonbinary people as visibility and recognition of our rights and our humanity grow."
  • "It goes far beyond sports because of the fundamental question of, do trans kids and nonbinary kids deserve to be treated fairly, to be treated with respect and treated like human beings and to participate with their peers," Lieberman said.

Reality check: Graham said he's not aware of any transgender high school students participating in Georgia high school athletics, which Lieberman said is common in other states where bans have been enacted.

  • In an interview with the AJC, the association's director Robin Hines said he has only heard "anecdotally of a couple of transgender athletes participating in boys cross-country."

What's next: Tim Holbrook, a law professor at Emory University, tells Axios the likelihood of a lawsuit in response is "very high," though it would have to come from a trans student denied the opportunity to participate in a sports team.

  • Should a case be brought, Holbrook said, such a suit would have merit given that "there is clear differential treatment of students on the basis of their gender identity and sex," which the U.S. Supreme Court, Title IX and the constitution do not allow.

Kristal Dixon contributed reporting to this article.

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