Transgender sports bill signed into law

Opponents warn of bill’s economic and social impacts

By: - May 7, 2021 4:22 pm

Demonstrators gather on the Montana Capitol’s steps on April 19, 2021, to protest House Bill 112 that would bar transgender women athletes from participating on K-16 womens’ sports teams.

Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed into law the highly controversial House Bill 112 to ban transgender women athletes from participating in K-16 women’s athletics.

In hearings on the bill, LGBTQ advocates and other opponents heavily outweighed supporters during testimony. Opponents said the bill further stigmatizes trans youth in Montana and deprives them of comfortably participating in athletics, which medical professionals said help with mental health and are an important part of childhood.

Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, sponsored the bill and said it was necessary to save women’s sports from a hypothetical takeover by transgender females. More than 200 college women athletes in Montana signed a letter saying that they did not support the bill and it would harm women’s sports and trans female athletes.

According to data compiled by the legislature, 2,474 people submitted web and phone messages expressing opposition to the bill, and 1,296 people sent messages of support. Gov. Gianforte’s office did not respond to a request for comment about why he signed the bill. Last month, he met with a handful of transgender people, medical providers and LGBTQ activists to hear their concerns.

Shawn Reagor, director of equality and economic justice for the Montana Human Rights Network, was a part of that meeting and said Friday he is disappointed Gianforte did not take their concerns more seriously. “Despite statewide opposition and ongoing outreach from business leaders, physicians, athletes, coaches, LGBTQ community members, and everyday Montanans, today Gov Gianforte signed HB 112 into law. This bill unfairly targets trans youth and puts millions of federal education dollars at risk. It is unnecessary and harmful policy that comes at a massive cost to the state.”

Fuller said getting the bill through the Legislature was a heavy lift: “The opposition got rather heated and even nasty as my motives were often questioned.”

Fuller said he does not think the bill is discriminatory and will help protect women’s sports from transgender female athletes, though he could not name any.

“That’s an irrelevant discussion,” he said. “Just like you don’t know, I don’t know what’s out there.”

Critics of the bill also warned of the economic impacts.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has pulled championship events from other states for passing legislation they view as discriminatory against trans people. In Montana, NCAA events bring in millions of dollars in revenue to local communities. More than 300 Montana businesses signed a letter voicing their opposition to the bill saying that it will make it harder to recruit and retain top work talent in Montana.

Alex Rate, legal director for the Montana American Civil Liberties Union, took issue with the bill. “Once again, the Montana Legislature has abrogated its responsibility to do the people’s business in lieu of lashing out at vulnerable transgender Montanans. This law is unconstitutional, plain and simple.”

Adding to the long list of concerns, Democratic lawmakers and college officials warned that the state could be at risk of losing as much as $350 million if the bill is found to violate Title IX. An amendment to void the bill to address that concern if it is found to vote the Title IX was added.

The legislation is part of a greater Republican-led effort in legislatures across the country, where a record 82 bills aiming to regulate transgender people have been introduced, according to the Human Rights Network.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.