The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) has called on lawmakers to require female athletes to compete against male athletes who identify as transgender, saying a proposed ban on transgender athletes in girls’ sports “jeopardizes local control” because it would overrule “the policy school districts have adopted” through the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association “regarding athletic participation.”
The OSSBA argued that participation in women’s athletics by male-bodied athletes who identify as transgender has been endorsed by school districts across the state.
“School districts voted to approve the existing OSSAA policy, and school districts through OSSAA should be responsible for evaluating whether a change is needed,” the OSSBA declared in a recent “legislative alert.”
Since 2015, Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association policy has required athletes who identify as transgender to complete at least one year of hormone therapy before being allowed to participate on girls’ teams.
Senate Bill 2, by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, creates the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The legislation’s key provision states, “Athletic teams designated for ‘females’, ‘women’ or ‘girls’ shall not be open to students of the male sex.”
Under SB 2 any student “deprived of an athletic opportunity” or who “suffers any direct or indirect harm as a result” of violations of the Save Women’s Sports Act “shall have a cause of action for injunctive relief, damages, and any other relief available permitted by law against the school.” The bill also allows female athletes to sue if they are “subject to retaliation or other adverse action by a school” or athletic association because of reporting a violation of the Save Women’s Sports Act.
That legislation has passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 73-19 vote and now awaits consideration in the Oklahoma Senate.
Supporters noted that even with hormone treatment, male bodies retain significant physical differences that provide competitive athletic advantages over women.
The OSSBA argued that SB 2 was “forcing educators who seek to create strong relationships with students to instead create an environment of exclusion,” and that preventing athletes who identify as transgender from competing in women’s sports “means they’ll miss out on important childhood lessons—leadership, teamwork, and discipline—and opportunities that are a valuable part of the educational experience.”
However, during House debate on SB 2, Hasenbeck noted that transgender individuals already have high rates of suicide and that their participation in women’s sports may actually increase the social ostracization that fuels self-destructive thoughts.
“As a 19-year educator, the last few years that I taught, there were a few children who came to me because they were thinking about committing suicide, and I think that we have got to think about every child in these situations,” said Hasenbeck, R-Elgin. “I sent out a video of a biological male student almost lapping some biological females in a sporting event. It was a state championship event. When that event was over, not a single one of those athletes went and congratulated the first-place winner. And I think if we don’t take a step back and look at what we’re trying to do, I think that’s a very dangerous position for a transgender student-athlete to be in, and we have got to recognize the potential damage that we could be doing to those students as well.”
Rather than limit girls’ sports to biological females, the OSSBA argued lawmakers should instead increase state spending on girls’ sports while requiring girls to compete against athletes who identify as transgender.
“Excluding transgender girls from sports doesn’t ‘save’ or protect sports opportunities for girls,” the OSSBA stated. “Proponents of girls’ sports should fight for better funding and equitable support of athletic opportunities for girls.”
The OSSBA is funded with taxpayer dollars paid by schools to join the organization, which is technically considered a private entity. The OSSBA’s services include legislative lobbying.
In the past year, the OSSBA has lobbied in opposition to legislation requested by parents that would have allowed recall elections for school-board members, opposed legislation that would move school-board elections to general-election dates that draw higher voter participation, and touted policy proposals that would have required the physical closure of more than half of Oklahoma schools as recently as February despite an 80-percent plunge in COVID-19 cases.
Top officials at the OSSBA also participated in a recent Twitter chat where participants declared Oklahoma public schools are racist with one OSSBA official declaring a “racial caste system” is “ingrained in our society.”