A bill that would require transgender athletes to compete against their biological sex had a lot of discussion in a Senate committee Wednesday. (Photo by Michael Flippo/Adobe Stock)

Trans athlete bill sparks healthy debate in Senate committee

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Sports

A bill that would require transgender athletes to compete against their biological sex had a lot of discussion in a Senate committee Wednesday. (Photo by Michael Flippo/Adobe Stock)

A bill that would require transgender athletes to compete against their biological sex had a lot of discussion in a Senate committee Wednesday. (Photo by Michael Flippo/Adobe Stock)

A bill forcing transgender student athletes to compete only with others who share their biological gender drew some healthy discussion in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday. 

“While the public could be broadly accepting of the idea that adults who want to identify as a different gender and undergo hormone treatment to live out their lives should be given space to do so, transgender activists are pushing for changes that have direct ramifications for others – here girls high school sports,” said Tom Neuberger, an attorney at the The Neuberger Firm who was called to testify in support the bill. 

Dubbed the “Fairness in Girls’ Sports Act,” Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Sen. Bryant Richardson R-Seaford, defines biological gender as being determined by birth and based on the student’s birth certificate or other government record if a birth certificate is unobtainable.

Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover and a longtime athletic coach, pointed out that there’s scientific evidence of biological males having an athletic advantage over biological females. 

“All that means is bigger, faster, stronger, something that I painted on the walls in the weight room when I ran those weight rooms for 30 years, telling the athletes that bigger, faster, stronger was how you won the moment,” he said. 

He pointed out that in his time as a legislator he took heat from his own side of the political aisle for supporting the Pride Month legislation, but said logic would tell people that biological males should not compete with biological females. 

RELATED: Trans athletes should compete based on birth gender, bill says 

Buckson then brought up Anna Hall, who he said is referred to as the greatest American female athlete right now. 

He said Bruce Jenner, gold medal Olympian in the 1970s who transitioned to a female, Caitlyn Jenner, would dominate in women’s sports.

“He was a gold medalist in the decathlon… and his times, her times now, but then his, would have dominated this year’s heptathlon,” Buckson said. “Even though he was an athlete in 1976, despite all the advances in training capability, he would have blown them [females] out of the water in his 100 yard dash time. He would have been out the door before Anna [Hall] gets here.”

An exception is outlined in the bill to allow female athletes to compete in male sports if a corresponding female sport is not available. 

Under the bill, a school district, charter school or Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) member school must designate an athletic team or sport based on the biological sex of students.

Civil actions can be brought forward against any school or individual who violates this bill, with a statute of limitations of two years. 

Kirsten Olson, chief executive officer of Children and Families First, said the bill “could do substantial harm to the mental health well being and lives of trans youth.”

She cited statistics that transgender individuals are much more likely than their cisgender counterparts to have mental health struggles and much higher rates of suicide. 

Sarah Stone, a representative for ChristianaCare said her organization opposes the bill. 

“It’s difficult, according to our experts and providers, to use sex assigned at birth, since sex at birth, assigned at birth, is not a binary thing,” she said. “Requiring student athletes, therefore, to compete strictly according to their biological sex, as proposed by this bill overlooks critical medical factors that influence athletic performance and safety.”

Biological sex alone does not fully determine an individual’s physical capabilities or competitive advantages in sports, she said. 

Certainly, she said, variations in body composition, hormone levels, musculoskeletal development, can differ widely within the same biological sex, leading to disparities in athletic performance. 

“Moreover, this bill ignores the medical consensus that gender identity is distinct from biological sex and fails to accommodate transgender and non-binary athletes who may face significant challenges discrimination,” she said. 

Neuberger said it’s his belief there’s a hidden agenda to eliminate single-sex high school girls sports in Delaware due to the transgender movement. 

Michelle Parsons, a doctor in Delaware, spoke strictly to give a medical analysis on the differences between biological males and females. 

She said that there’s a false belief that if a biological male were to lower his testosterone levels, it would be an even playing field. 

This is incorrect, she said, and regardless of the testosterone and estrogen levels in men and women, the biological man will have certain characteristics like broader shoulders, larger muscle mass, and non-athletic traits such as facial hair and a lower-pitched voice. 

Parsons explained to the committee that it isn’t always black and white, and there are other biological factors like if a baby is born intersex. 

That’s when they have XXY chromosomes, and typically look female but have some male characteristics. Males typically have XY chromosomes and women have XX ones.

The bill does not address intersex athletes. 

But, she said the handful of intersex athletes who compete in the olympics are more successful than their XX counterparts. 

The topic of transgender athletes became a national issue in 2022, when Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship. 

She won the women’s 500-yard freestyle event for the University of Pennsylvania, but has since been barred from competing in women’s events by World Aquatics.

However, many say concern over the performance of trans athletes is overblown.

Although the specific number varies, it’s estimated that less than 50 of the NCAA’s 500,000 plus college athletes are transgender – less than .1%. 

While the bill sparked division, legislators and other speakers repeatedly said they understand it’s a sensitive topic, and that the past few years in the legislature have had many highly-charged social topics discussed. 

The state teacher’s union opposed the bill, and its representative, Taylor Hawk, said “all students, regardless of gender identity, should be afforded equal opportunity and guaranteed a safe and inclusive environment within the public education system.”

In an email to Delaware LIVE News Wednesday, the United Way of Delaware’s PRIDE Council stated they have concerns about the bill and would love to work through them with Richardson. 

“We believe that transgender youth, as with transgender adults, have the human right to be treated with the same dignity and respect pertaining to their gender as any other person,” the group stated. “The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) allows transgender students to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity so long as specific criteria are met.”

Per the DIAA, a transgender student, defined as a student whose gender identity differs from the student’s birth sex, is eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics in a manner that is consistent with the student’s gender identity, under any of the following conditions: 

  • The student provides an official record, such as a revised birth certificate, a driver’s license or a passport, demonstrating legal recognition of the student’s reassigned sex.
  • A physician certifies that the student has had appropriate clinical treatment for transition to the reassigned sex.
  • A physician certifies that the student is in the process of transition to the reassigned sex.
  • The determination of a student’s sex-assignment for interscholastic athletics shall be made by the student’s school.
  • The determination of a student’s sex-assignment for interscholastic athletics shall remain in effect for the duration of the student’s high school eligibility.

Since Senate committees do not hold a public vote, and rather have the legislators sign the back of the bill with their vote, the outcome of the bill will be posted on the General Assembly’s bill-tracker. As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the results still had not been posted.

If released by committee, SB 191 will make its way to the Senate floor for debate.

Share this Post