CASPER — A group of state lawmakers filed a bill Wednesday that would bar transgender women and girls in Wyoming from participating in high school and collegiate sports that match their gender identity.
The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” or Senate File 51, is sponsored by Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, and six other lawmakers. The bill is set to be considered when the Wyoming Legislature convenes for a budget session later this month.
In addition to implementing a ban, the measure seeks to protect students who report fellow students for not abiding by the prohibition and may experience retaliation.
As the bill is written, if a student receives backlash for reporting a violation, they “shall have a private cause of action for injunctive relief, damages and any other relief available under law against the school, institution or athletic association or organization.”
The bill would also open the door to legal action on behalf of students who are “deprived of an athletic opportunity” due to a violation of the ban.
Lawmakers in many Republican-controlled statehouses have moved pushed similar measures in the past year.
“This important bill protects women’s sports by stopping the radical Left’s agenda,” said Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, a co-sponsor of the bill. “This bill preserves fair competition and an even-playing field.”
Other lawmakers sponsoring the bill did not immediately respond for request for comment Wednesday.
Critics of the measure were quick to respond.
“The ACLU of Wyoming and Wyoming Equality are asking the Senate not to introduce Senate File 51 this year,” a joint statement said.
“It’s not coming from a problem in Wyoming,” said Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality and a former state lawmaker. “It’s coming from national fearmongering.”
Burlingame added that she has witnessed how transgender women and girls have been successfully sorting out how to play sports with their coaches and parents “in some of the most conservative towns in Wyoming.”
The ACLU of Wyoming and Wyoming Equality argues that Senate File 51 is unconstitutional and would be a Title IX violation.
“Title IX protects all students — including students who are transgender — from discrimination based on sex,” Antonio Serrano, ACLU of Wyoming advocacy director, said in a statement. “Senate File 51 is clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender people in our state. In Wyoming and around the country, transgender people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender identity for years.”
In a budget session, bills that don’t pertain to the budget have to pass a two-thirds introductory vote to be considered. That’s a steep hurdle for any legislation, but especially so for bills like Senate File 51 that are not sponsored by a committee.
Still, it’s not a surprise that conservative members of the Legislature would move on the bill this year. Last month, the Republican State Central Committee passed a resolution that encouraged the Legislature to pass a bill like Senate File 51.
“The Wyoming Republican Party encourages the Wyoming State Legislature to pass legislation that would prohibit transgender males from competing in school female athletic programs,” the resolution read.
The debate about transgender athletes has come up at the professional level in arenas like the Olympics, but Burlingame says this is something entirely different.
“You have to remember they’re talking about children,” she said. “All of those arguments about hormones and body mass, 100% you can have that conversation about professional sports. That has nothing to do with this conversation. This conversation has to do with children.”
In South Dakota, a bill that would ban transgender women and girls from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity cleared its final legislative hurdle by passing the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The governor there is expected to sign it into law.
On the same day that Wyoming lawmakers filed their transgender sports bill, legislators in the Arizona Senate voted to pass a bill that bars transgender girls and women from competing on a high school or college sports team that aligns with their gender identity. Unlike in South Dakota, that measure must still pass the House.