West Virginia state Senate approves anti-trans sports bill

West Virginia state senators on Thursday approved a measure prohibiting transgender girls and women in the state from competing on secondary and college sports teams, moving the state one step closer to joining four others that have enacted similar bans this year.

The state’s Republican-led Senate approved HB 3293 by a vote of 18-15 Thursday afternoon after debating the measure for more than an hour. The state’s GOP-controlled House of Delegates approved a different version of the bill last month by a vote of 78-20.

The legislation now heads back to the House, where lawmakers will consider the new version of the bill. Should they pass it, the measure would then head to Republican Gov. Jim Justice for consideration. CNN has reached out to the governor for comment on the bill.

The Senate’s action is a part of a growing trend among Republican-controlled legislatures around the country that have been moving in recent weeks to impose restrictions on the lives of transgender Americans. So far this year, South Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have enacted similar sports bans, with Arkansas also approving a measure earlier this week that prohibits physicians in the state from providing gender-affirming treatments to trans youth.

“It is (in) the best interest of the state to protect women and girls and protect the opportunity for them to participate in sports. Supporting this is simply doing that,” Republican state Sen. Patricia Rucker said just before the chamber approved the measure. She did not address the fact that the bill limits the opportunities for trans girls and women in the state.

HB 3293 states that secondary and college sports teams in the state must be designated based on “biological sex,” and that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex where selection for such teams is based upon competitive skill or the activity involved is a contact sport.”

“Biological sex” is a term the lawmakers use to refer to the sex determined at the time of a student’s birth.

While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, can be overly simplistic and misleading.

While proponents say that allowing an athlete born male to compete in women’s sports gives them an unfair advantage, those against proposals like HB 3293 say they are discriminatory and harmful.

One of the bill’s Republican sponsors, House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, used transphobic language last month when advocating for the bill’s passage, claiming that trans athletes might injure their fellow competitors.

“An individual that may have different characteristics that makes their abilities stronger or physically stronger or their habitus is different, maybe that might affect injury to other participating students in the same sport,” he said.

When questioned on the matter, Ellington admitted there hadn’t been any complaints received in West Virginia regarding a student “taking advantage” of the state’s single-sex sports system, but claimed it had become an issue in other states around the country.

At least 30 other states have introduced similar bans this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s anti-trans bill tracker.

“Some in this room don’t seem to care that this bill is cruel, that it’s narrow-minded, that it’s mean-spirited, that it’s unnecessary. That it’s purely political,” Democratic state Sen. William Ihlenfeld said on Thursday as the chamber considered the legislation.

Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin argued last month that the debate surrounding the bill would only serve to hurt “the most alienated kids” in West Virginia’s schools, saying, “The solution we’re talking about is more problematic than the perceived problem that you’re making up.”

LGBTQ groups have strongly opposed measures like SB 3293, including the Human Rights Campaign, which said last month that “West Virginia’s legislature is pushing harmful legislation that would discriminate against transgender kids who simply want to play sports with their friends.”

“Bills like this are based in fear, not facts, science, or medicine, and they are targeting and excluding transgender kids at a critical time in their lives, making them more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and dysphoria,” Ryan Wilson, HRC’s regional campaign director, said in a statement.