During last year’s third called special session, Swanson’s House Bill 25 was passed into law, restricting participation in public school sports to students whose biological gender is the same as that for which a sport is designated. The newly filed House Bill 23 would apply the current restriction to public colleges and universities as well as private schools that compete with them.
The law as it currently stands does not apply to K-12 private schools, but the new measure would extend the restriction to those that compete with public schools. HB 23 also includes language that appears to close a potential loophole in enforcing the law by replacing the term “compete” with “participate,” removing the argument that a transgender student could join an opposite-sex team as long as he or she doesn’t play in any games or participate in competitions.
The controversy over biological men participating in women’s sports has erupted in recent years, and it was thrust into the national spotlight this year when University of Pennsylvania “transgender” swimmer William Thomas (who now goes by Lia) consistently dominated his female competition and won the NCAA Division I national championship in the 500-yard freestyle event. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a potential 2024 presidential contender, likewise received national attention during the past year for her back-and-forth support of legislation that bans biological men from participating in women’s youth and college sports in that state.
In 2020, Idaho became the first state to implement this kind of restriction, setting off a flurry of activity in dozens of other states attempting to do the same. Currently, 18 states—mostly in the South, Midwest, and Mountain West—have enacted laws prohibiting biological males from participating in women’s sports, and several others have proposed legislation to do so.
Texas lawmakers attempted to enact such legislation during the 2021 regular legislative session, but specific proposals failed to gain traction until Gov. Greg Abbott—perhaps prompted by the actions of Gov. Noem—designated it as a priority for the subsequent three special sessions.
During the regular session, a proposal by State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock) passed the Senate but failed to receive a vote in the House after it was substituted for a similar measure by State Rep. Cole Hefner (R–Mount Pleasant), which required the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to conduct a study on the potential effects of allowing students to participate in sports designated for the opposite sex.
When election integrity legislation and other priorities failed to pass during the regular session, Gov. Abbott called three special sessions for the Legislature to consider proposals addressing those issues. During each of these special sessions, Abbott included measures identical to Sen. Perry’s from the regular session in his list of priorities.
Democrats temporarily derailed these efforts when dozens of members absconded to Washington, D.C., to deny Republicans a quorum in the Texas House of Representatives. After several weeks, however, enough of them returned to restore a quorum and allow legislative activity to resume.
The Senate passed Perry’s bill during each session, but it was not until the third special session that the House took any meaningful action on it. Ultimately, the House passed a bill Swanson authored and agreed to amendments from the Senate. Gov. Abbott signed the legislation, and it became effective in January of this year.
While a number of other states’ laws protecting women’s sports have been challenged in court, there has not been any litigation regarding Texas’ law. In cases where legal challenges have been allowed to proceed, those bringing them have alleged personal harm from such laws, namely being prevented from joining a middle school, high school, or college sports team designated for the opposite sex. In expanding the application of these laws, the probability of a lawsuit increases, which could explain why some states, such as Texas, have not attempted to prohibit men from participating in women’s sports at the collegiate level.
Potential boycotts and other punitive actions by organizations like the NCAA are another factor contributing to some lawmakers’ resistance to extending biological restrictions to college athletics. In fact, Noem initially vetoed legislation that sought to protect women’s sports in her state due to concerns that the NCAA might strip colleges’ accreditation or refuse to host any tournaments in South Dakota, depriving the state of opportunities to benefit from the associated economic activity. She later changed course, signing Senate Bill 46 in February of this year after previously issuing executive orders intended to achieve the same objective.
It’s unknown whether House leadership will support Swanson’s bill. Similar legislation has yet to be filed in the Senate.
Advocates for the proposed policy want Abbott to push back on the corporate interests working to oppose it.
Chris Hopper, president of Texas Family Project, said the current situation “leaves countless thousands of women stranded as men are allowed to participate in women’s sports all across the state,” adding that influence from the NCAA “keeps women’s sports woke.” He urged Gov. Abbott to be a “fierce fighter for Texas’ families” and voice his support for protecting women’s sports at all levels.