Family & Community
Ray Carter | March 30, 2022
Stitt signs transgender athlete law
Surrounded by women of all ages, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation that prevents Oklahoma girls from having to compete against transgender women—biological males who identify as female—in sporting events.
“These talented, hardworking young women, they’re the reason we’re here,” Stitt said. “This bill, the ‘Save Women’s Sports Act,’ to us in Oklahoma is just common sense.”
He said the issue is one of basic fairness.
“We’re ensuring a level playing field for female athletes who work hard, who train hard, who are committed to their team, who have dreams to be number one in their sport, who deserve fair competition,” Stitt said. “The reality is men are biologically different than women. Men have more muscle mass. Their bones are larger and denser. They have larger lungs and wider airways. These are physical advantages men have over women on the field, in the pool, on the track, on the court, in the weight room. So how is it fair for female track athletes or swimmers who have been training since they were 12 years old to lose in a high-school competition to a biological male? It’s not. It’s simply not fair, and it will not happen in the state of Oklahoma.”
Senate Bill 2, by state Rep. Toni Hasenbeck and state Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, 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 a school or athletic association retaliates against them for reporting a violation of the Save Women’s Sports Act.
Oklahomans for Equality condemned enactment of the law, declaring in a Facebook post, “Our elected officials have fouled out and need to be benched. By selectively blocking access to youth development programs that are designed to teach some of life's most important lessons Oklahoma has now disenfranchised and further marginalized families and their children.”
The group also attacked the legislation in a recent newsletter, saying, “SB2 is targeting transgender girls and women in sports. This bill is harmful, dangerous, and unfortunately on its way to the Governor’s desk for signing.”
The same Oklahomans for Equality newsletter touted “Condom-Mania,” an April 2 fashion show “featuring original designs made from condoms and/or condom wrappers!”
Opponents have claimed there are no transgender athletes participating in women’s sports in Oklahoma, but Tamya Cox-Touré, ACLU of Oklahoma executive director, indicated otherwise in a statement released after SB 2 was signed into law.
Cox-Touré said transgender students “already live and go to school in our State” and “play sports.”
In contrast, numerous women have expressed support for the legislation, including current and former athletes who attended the bill signing.
“I’m behind this because I believe that all young women deserve the opportunity to excel at whatever sport they choose to be passionate about, and I don’t think it should be taken away from them, especially for biological reasons that they can’t overcome,” said Levi Gladd, a women’s track-and-field athlete at the University of Oklahoma.
She said the issue is “something that a lot of young girls feel very passionate about.”
Alyssa Amundsen, a former member of the all-girls cheerleading squad at the University of Oklahoma, also spoke in favor of the law.
“This bill protects my sport directly,” Amundsen said. “There cannot be an all-girls cheer squad if we allow biological males to participate in it. So the elimination of my sport is something that I do not want to see happen. It was something I was passionate about through college, my entire life. It is something I spent countless hours on, countless injuries on, and I would hate for any of these ladies that are still making it to that level to be eliminated from that because they’re getting beat out by biological males. This bill protects me. This protects my friends over here. This protects my daughters in the future and their daughters.”
Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, said she first became aware of the issue 12 years ago and had thought much about it in the years since, but said she became especially motivated after receiving a call of support from a woman who had been a four-time state champion track athlete in high school.
“When we had to do difficult things,” Hasenbeck said, “it was her tear-filled voice that gave me a lot of strength to keep going.”
Bergstrom, R-Adair, noted he has three daughters, a “bunch” of granddaughters, and one great-granddaughter, and said he authored the legislation “to protect every girl, every young woman, from having to compete against a guy in their sport and losing out on scholarships and opportunities and educational benefits.”
“The ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’ is common sense,” Bergstrom said. “And it’s, in some ways, showing respect for our young women and for our daughters and granddaughters.”
State Sen. Julie Daniels, a Bartlesville Republican who carried SB 2 on the Senate floor, said she became especially engaged with the issue after speaking with a friend—a “swim mom” of 18 years—about the controversy associated with University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team member Lia Thomas. Thomas previously competed at Penn for three years as a male before pursuing women’s athletics as a transgender woman.
Daniels said citizens “should embrace the humanity in each other, no matter where we are in our lives,” including transgender individuals.
“But that does not dispute the fact that women exist, and the vast majority of people competing in athletics as females are biological females, and five decades of Title IX is going to be very quickly undone if we allow just a few biological males to come in and start taking the medals and taking the ribbons and setting the fast time and taking the scholarships,” Daniels said.
Thomas was recently crowned the Division I national champion in the women’s 500-yard freestyle. In February, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swimming and diving team sent a letter to the NCAA writing, “Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.”
The issue of male-to-female transgender athletes competing against biological females has drawn national attention as women have increasingly objected.
A 2020 lawsuit filed on behalf of three high-school girls in Connecticut noted that in 2017 “thousands of men and boys achieved times in the 400m faster than the best lifetime performances of three women Olympic champions in that event. Each year, thousands of men—and dozens or hundreds of high school boys under the age of 18—achieve times (or heights or distances) in track events better than the world’s single best elite woman competitor that year.”
In 2019, Doriane Lambelet Coleman, a professor of law at Duke Law School, similarly testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary that because of basic biological differences, “even at their absolute best, the women would lose to literally thousands of boys and men, including to thousands who would be considered second tier in the men’s category.”
Opponents of SB 2 have argued the physical advantages of male-to-female transgender athletes disappear after a year of hormone treatments, but some research has found otherwise.
One study published in March 2020 in “The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism” found that even after a year of hormone treatment transgender women “generally maintained their strength levels.” A similar study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the athletic advantages recorded by transgender women prior to hormone treatment were reduced by hormone treatment, but that “transwomen still had a 9% faster mean run speed after the 1 year period of testosterone suppression that is recommended by World Athletics for inclusion in women’s events.”
State Rep. Sheila Dills, a Tulsa Republican who played for the women’s golf team at Oklahoma State University from 1985 to 1989, said she supported the bill to “fight for the rights of young girls and women who are playing sports in Oklahoma and who have dreams of playing sports.”
“This is a bill that is about fairness and safety in women’s sports,” Dills said. “It’s about protecting the dreams of young girls who want to even begin playing sports.”
Oklahoma PTA, OSSBA Oppose
Those opposed to enactment of SB 2 included the Oklahoma PTA (parent-teacher association), which declared in an April 13, 2021, Facebook post that SB 2 is an “exclusionary bill” that “does not align with National PTA’s policy of promoting diversity and inclusion.”
“PTA believes that ‘diversity is our strength,’ and has long had a policy supporting LGBTQ young adults,” the Oklahoma PTA post stated. “… Oklahoma PTA opposes this bill and others that seek to exclude members of the LGBTQ community.”
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) also opposed SB 2.
“Excluding transgender girls from sports doesn’t ‘save’ or protect sports opportunities for girls,” the OSSBA stated in a legislative alert. “Proponents of girls’ sports should fight for better funding and equitable support of athletic opportunities for girls.”
Officials with the NCAA have also voiced opposition. In a 2021 statement, the NCAA Board of Governors declared that it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” saying that allowing those individuals to compete in women’s athletic events is “grounded” in the value of “fair competition.”
In that statement, the NCAA Board of Governors suggested states like Oklahoma could be blackballed from hosting championship events if transgender athletes are not allowed to compete against girls and women.
The NCAA’s ability to enforce such a ban may be tested by the growing number of states that now have laws limiting female sporting events to biological females. Along with Oklahoma, other states with similar laws include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia
Stitt said the NCAA’s rhetoric had no impact on state policymakers.
“Even if the NCAA had a problem with it,” Stitt said, “we’re going to do what’s right for all these ladies behind me. We’re going to protect women in sports in the state of Oklahoma. I think more people need to lead and not be afraid of doing the right thing.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.