West Virginia House passes bill to ban transgender student-athletes

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted 78-20 to ban transgender middle and high school students from participating in school sports that match their gender identity on March 25. 

“It is hypocritical for us to say, ‘Mountaineers are always free’ when we are placing a minority group to be bullied and we are being bullies with this piece of legislation,” Del. Danielle Walker said. “I was elected to represent the state of West Virginia — I was not elected to bully children.”  

Debate on the bill lasted over an hour, and it will now be sent to the state Senate.  

Wood County Republican Del. Roger Conley, who supported the bill, said, “it’s only fair that if you’re born a male, that you compete in male sports.”  

Most of the delegates who spoke about the bill were Democrats, and some called the bill discriminatory.  

Logan County Republican Del. Margitta Mazzocchi, who supported the bill, said when her daughter was 12 and 13, she played soccer with boys who were much bigger than her. “We need to protect our little girls,” Mazzocchi said.  

Del. Walker said the floor speeches during the bill’s debate were “heartbreaking.”   

“I heard hypocrites, and I heard bigotry in those statements. This savior mentality that we have in the state needs to stop because it brings on ignorance,” Walker said. “This is transphobia, this is homophobia, and it needs to stop because the fear of what could be should not be the legislation that we are pushing in in this legislative session in the middle of a pandemic and facing an epidemic.”   

Walker said this piece of legislation wastes West Virginian taxpayer dollars. Cabell County delegates that supported the legislation include Republicans Daniel Linville, John Mandt Jr., Matthew Rohrbach, and Evan Worrell.  

Sean Hornbuckle, a Cabell County Democrat, said that “legally, we’re asking for a battle. We’re not going to be lawmakers; we’re going to be lawbreakers.”  

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational programs or activities that receive federal funding. Currently, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, which oversees sports in public schools and many private schools, has no policy specifying transgender student-athletes.   

“[Title IX] has nondiscrimination language that we support,” Bernie Dolan, the WVSSAC executive director, said.  

Dolan said the WVSSAC is unaware of openly transgender students participating in scholastic sports currently or in the past.  

The bill states, “If an original birth certificate was not provided or if the birth certificate provided does not indicate the pupil’s sex at the time of birth, a signed physician’s statement indicating the pupil’s sex-based solely on the pupil’s unaltered internal and external reproductive anatomy must be submitted prior to a pupil’s participation in single-sex secondary school interscholastic athletic events.”  

A study released in January 2017 from the Williams Institute estimated that West Virginia has, out of all 50 states, the highest percentage of 13- to 17-year-olds who would identify as transgender.  

Del. Walker said she received feedback from her constituents opposing the bill and encourages them to continue voicing their concerns.  

“Use your voices. Understand that we work for you, you do not work for us, and with all the emails that I have received, this is not something that was wanted by the people of West Virginia,” Walker said. “ I hope that the same folks who contacted me and called and emailed do the same thing to our senators and let them know that these votes have consequences just like the elections did.”  

Walker said she is working to continue her own education and to educate her community on how to advocate for minorities and fight transphobia.

“To the trans youth and families that live within the state of West Virginia: I appreciate you, I see you, and I respect you,” Walker said. “I want to apologize to you for my colleagues, and I can only imagine the trauma and the hurt that this Bill and other bills have brought to your family. I stand with you — we are one. One love.”  

On March 19, the ACLU of West Virginia tweeted, “HB 3293, the trans athlete ban, just passed the House Judiciary Committee. Its next stop is the full House of Delegates. If this bill becomes law, we will sue, and we will win.”  

Isabella Robinson can be contacted at [email protected]