JEFFERSON CITY — Transgender children and their families testified Wednesday against a proposal in the House that would bar transgender students from playing sports on a team that matches their gender.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if passed by Missouri voters, would require students to participate in sports based on the sex listed on their birth certificate.
Basye said his bill was not meant to be discriminatory or homophobic, but rather to protect young women from having to compete against stronger transgender women. He argued non-transgender girls could lose scholarships or the opportunity to compete at a higher level.
“Men and women are different biologically and physically,” Basye said.
“I do not want to see any young girl lose out on an opportunity after there has been so much effort getting girls in an equal playing field in their sports.”
Parents and youth who testified at the hearing argued that transgender children are often taking hormone treatments that reduce those physical disparities.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association already has policies in place for transgender students who participate in girls’, boys’ or co-ed teams.
For students who are not using medical or hormone treatment to transition, the association’s handbook says transgender boys may participate on boys’ teams but transgender girls may not play on girls’ teams.
Transgender boys who are using hormone treatment may play on boys’ teams and are no longer eligible to participate on girls’ teams. Transgender girls who are using hormone treatment may continue to play on boys’ teams, and may switch to the girls’ team after one year of treatment, as long as “appropriate hormone levels” are maintained, according to the policy.
Basye said he had not read the organization’s policy but was familiar with its existence.
Anneliese Schaefer, who testified in opposition to the bill, described the rigorous process her transgender daughter had to go through to play sports, submitting evidence from doctors, psychologists, a family friend and the school.
“I would hope that this clarifies that there is a process in place,” she said. “Having a bill to address this seems like a solution in search of a problem.”
Other witnesses testified about the emotional pain of being misgendered, with some bringing up the high suicide rates among trans students.
Corey Hyman, a 15-year-old transgender boy who testified at the hearing, said he did not currently play sports but “would be very upset seeing my transgender peers discriminated against somewhere where they should feel comfortable.”
“If you saw me, someone with a mustache, on the girls team, you would probably be a bit thrown off,” he said. Being misgendered “is a horrible and heartbreaking feeling.”
Representatives of business groups, including Greater St. Louis Inc., also testified against the proposal, concerned it could have a negative effect on the state’s economy.
Two people testified in favor of the proposal, mainly highlighting the differences in athletic ability between men and women. Basye said that people who agree with him are afraid to be labeled as bigots if they come forward.
The hearing lasted just over two hours. Most witnesses were told they had two minutes to speak, not including time for follow-up questions. Virtual testimony was allowed at the hearing, but those who arrived in person were given priority.
Committee Chair Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington, noted that people who weren’t able to speak at the hearing were able to submit online testimony until midnight.
PROMO, a Missouri LGBTQ advocacy group, was among those opposing Basye’s proposal.
The potential amendment would “would strip (transgender children) of the opportunity to participate in sports and deny them invaluable physical, social, and emotional well-being,” the organization said in a press release.
The Legislature has periodically debated constitutional amendments that spark controversy over LGBTQ issues.
At the hearing, Rep. Betsy Fogle, D-Springfield, asked why Basye had chosen to propose a constitutional amendment rather than a bill. She argued the increased public controversy that would be provoked by a statewide vote on the issue could harm transgender children.
Missouri voters passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
In 2016, an amendment to protect businesses and individuals from working in same-sex weddings died in a House committee after making it through the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, then a representative, was one of the votes against it. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, was a sponsor of the proposal.