UPDATE: Republicans on the Senate committee passed SB 29, so it will head to the full Senate soon.
Former state representative Beto O’Rourke joined dozens of Texans at the Capitol on March 26 to advocate against the anti-transgender Senate Bill 29.
The bill, written by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and marked as one of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s top 31 priorities, would ban trans children from participating in student athletics that match their gender identities.
O’Rourke, who said earlier this week he drove over eight hours to Austin from El Paso to fight bills that would harm Texans, told a Senate committee he “learned a lot” from listening to those who were testifying both for and against SB 29.
“What struck me the most was the grace, the patience, and the generosity of the parents of transgender children, and those transgender children themselves, for helping us to understand what their lives are like,” O’Rourke said. “I know that has to move you, because it moved me.”
O’Rourke then reminded the committee about testimony provided by a representative from the Texas-based technology company Dell, which stated that all anti-equality bills have negative impacts because most employees prefer to work for LGBTQ-friendly establishments. “It’s hard to think of a more ‘Texas’ economic and job success story than Dell computers. Understanding that this could imperil that kind of success is something that I took note of.”
“I [also] took note of the public-health evidence given—the rise in depression, anxiety, and suicide by those children who are discriminated against by bills like this one,” O’Rourke said. “But what got me more than anything else was the moral question that is before us, and listening to [trans student Charlie Apple testifying that] ‘Sports saved my life.’”
To conclude his testimony, O’Rourke acknowledged that all public servants run for office to help their constituents. “It could not have been your intent, including the author of this bill, to hurt anybody. But now that you know that it will hurt people, I hope that you will withdraw this bill.”
Watch Beto O’Rourke testify against SB 29 below:
Proponents of anti-trans sports bans argue that trans girls “have an unfair advantage and should be forced to play on boys’ teams.” This belief comes from the idea that testosterone creates physical advantages such as an increase in muscle mass, according to a recent article by Scientific American.
Trans girls on puberty blockers have negligible testosterone levels, and Katrina Karkazis, a senior visiting fellow and expert on testosterone and bioethics at Yale University, adds that the athletic advantage conferred by testosterone is equivocal. “Studies of testosterone levels do not show any clear, consistent relationship between testosterone and athletic performance,” Karkazis said. “Sometimes testosterone is associated with better performance, but other studies show weak links or no links. And yet other studies show testosterone is associated with worse performance.”
The claim that trans girls have an unfair advantage in sports also overlooks the fact that these children have the deck stacked against them in nearly every other way. “They suffer from higher rates of bullying, anxiety, and depression—all of which makes it more difficult for them to train and compete,” the Scientific American article concluded. “This is likely a major driver of why we see so few transgender athletes in collegiate sports, and none in the Olympics.”
For all students, having the opportunity to compete in sports results in positive outcomes in development, social skills, and psychological well-being, according to GLSEN. The psychological benefits of sports specifically include improved emotional regulation, decreased hopelessness and thoughts of suicide, fewer symptoms of depression, and higher self-esteem.
GLSEN research has also found that LGBTQ student athletes have higher GPAs than their peers who do not compete in sports, and a majority of LGBTQ student atheltes feel a sense of belonging at their schools.
“Attacking trans youths’ access to sports—a tactic that, like debating bathrooms, has no basis in real-world facts—is another attempt to isolate vulnerable trans kids, barring them from the friendship, education, teamwork, and health benefits of playing a sport,” the LGBTQ political-advocacy organization Equality Texas said in a statement.
State legislators around the country have filed a record number of ant-trans bills this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That national LGBTQ advocacy organization, which has been tracking anti-equality legislation for over a decade, reported that there have been 82 such bills introduced so far in state legislative sessions, surpassing the 2020 total of 79 for the entire year.
Equality Texas reports that 30 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed in Austin—a dramatic increase over the previous Texas Legislative Session, when only 19 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed.
“This surge of direct legislative attacks only highlights that these bills aren’t being filed to solve problems, but to distract from the true emergencies Texans are facing—from the pandemic, to the economic crisis, to fixing the electric grid,” Equality Texas said.
Equality Texas has been advocating for LGBTQ rights at the Capitol since its inception in 1978. To help stop the current wave of attacks on trans children and teens that is taking place during this Texas Legislative Session, Equality Texas is asking its supporters to make their voices heard by contacting legislators, mobilizing their social-media networks, and providing their own testimonies.