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LGBTQ advocates criticize GHSA decision regarding transgender athletes

Advocates say the unanimous vote was rushed.

UPSON COUNTY, Ga. — Thousands of Georgia students are now only allowed to participate in sports based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. Sixty-two members of an executive committee with the Georgia High School Association voted unanimously to change its policy. 

An effective ban is now in place on transgender athletes at nearly 500 schools statewide aft GHSA executive committee voted to strike a line in its bylaws. The move returns authority over transgender students in sports back to the organization. Before, that power belonged to each individual school. The policy had been in place since 2016. After the vote, the policy reverts back to pre-2016 status. 

Dr. Evan Horton, superintendent of Coweta County Schools and a member of the GHSA executive committee, told 11Alive he did not intend to exclude students from sports when he voted for the new policy change. He said the new policy consolidates authority under the umbrella of the entire GHSA rather than each member school.

"It was through trying to find a consistent framework for schools to know which teams kids should play on," Horton said. “I am a proponent of making our sports as fair as they can be for all our participants. If there are things we can do to ensure there’s more fairness in sports, I’m all for that.”

The policy change comes after Governor Brian Kemp signed a law that empowered the GHSA to exclude transgender athletes. At the time of the signing, Kemp said he was putting students and parents first by "putting woke politics out of the classroom and off the ball field."

Critics opposed to the ban on transgender athletes argue there are no instances of trans athletes in Georgia creating an unfair advantage for others. State Sen. Sally Harrell (D-District 40) is the parent of a transgender child. She voted against HB1084, which opened the door for the GHSA to enact its decision. Lawmakers amended the legislation known as the "divisive concepts" bill. Harrell said the bill was supposed to form a commission that would study transgender students in sports. It's unclear where the formation of that committee currently stands.

RELATED: GHSA votes to require student athletes to play on teams according to sex on birth certificate

"Any time you don’t want to look at data before you make a decision, that’s a sign to me that an issue has moved into the political realm instead of being good policy," Harrell said. "Instead of looking at bans, I would like to see more infrastructure built for recreational sports built for high school kids, so all kids can participate and reap the benefits of doing sports in high school.”

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said there was no basis for the GHSA to change its policy because there was no proven case of a transgender students disadvantaging other students.

“This is definitely a solution in search of a problem," Graham said. "There has not been a single incident brought forward, in which a transgender student participating in athletic programs here in Georgia, caused harm to any other student. They’ve been swayed more by fear, misinformation and bias than by data, science or informed consideration.”

RELATED: Georgia lawmakers hand transgender decision to sports group

Timothy Holbrook, a law professor at Emory University, said the new GHSA policy targets trans students.

“I think it puts transgender students at greater risk for mental health challenges and complicates their socialization," Holbrook said. “These students are facing a really challenging road, wrestling with their gender identity. To be singled out in this way is only going to complicate that path. It won’t make it easier.”

Holbrook said there would likely be legal challenges against the new policy. They would center on federal law on Title IX, which prohibits discriminations based on sex in schools, and equal protection. 

Dr. Robin Hines, executive director of the GHSA, sent 11Alive this statement: “We don't keep data on transgendered athletes. The policy has been that the GHSA accepts the gender determined by the local school which has been in place for 6 years. The policy passed today returns to what the policy was previously which is that a student's sex is determined by the sex noted on the certificate of birth.”

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