JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri school districts could soon let voters decide if transgender girls should be prohibited from playing on female sports teams.
What started out as a bill to require voters to bring a photo ID to the polling place quickly turned into a lengthy and heated debate about sports and trans youth.
Democrats argued it’s not an issue in Missouri, but Republicans say it’s unfair to girls who are assigned female at birth.
“This isn’t about hate,” said Rep. Chuck Basye (R-Rocheport). “There’s a lot of examples in our society where it is proven that males are biologically superior to females. That’s not a sexist remark, that’s a fact.”
A hot button topic across the nation was front and center on the House floor Wednesday night. The bill up for debate was a large elections package requiring a photo ID to vote and the Secretary of State to audit voter registration lists.
The conversation took a turn with Basye offering an amendment allowing school districts to hold an election to ask the voters if transgender athletes with “male” on their birth certificates should be allowed to play on K-12 girls’ sports teams.
“I am very, very confident that there are people in this state, children, parents, and other citizens that feel like they don’t have a voice in this because they are afraid to speak out,” Basye said. “I want to let them know that I’m speaking for them, and I’m proud to speak for them.”
For hours, members on both sides of the aisle spoke on the amendment, Democrats stressing their frustration.
“This is wrong on so many levels,” said Rep. Barbara Phifer (D-St. Louis). “How in the world are you going to do this? Are we going to make children strip? We’re not going to do that in the State of Missouri. You’ll do it over my dead body.”
Rep. Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) was the first Democrat to speak on the type, heated that Basye would offer this provision.
“This is the only issue that I take personally that we discuss,” Mackey said. “Because this is what you focus on. This is the legislation you want to put forward, this is what consumes your time.”
Mackey, fired up over the amendment, is openly gay.
“I’m not afraid of you anymore because you’re going to lose,” Mackey said shouting to Basye. “You may win this today, but you’re going to lose.”
Republicans that spoke on the floor referred to the “scientific advantage” males have over females.
“To say that it’s not about winning and losing, how does a person getting beat by that biological male feel?,” Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville said. “We’re not trying to demean anyone; we’re talking about biological facts.”
The sponsor of the underlying elections bill, Rep. Peggy McGaugh (R-Carrollton) was shocked at the turn the legislation took.
“Not in a million years would I think what’s happening now would be on the bill that I helped author,” McGaugh said. “Sometimes you put your heart and soul into something and sometimes you have to deal with the cards that have been dealt. Remember, this underlying bill is about elections and election integrity.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said Republicans are pushing the proposal because of the upcoming elections.
“Members on the other side of the aisle have said directly to my face that they spoke on this issue because of their primary elections, because they need to win elections in a redistricting year, not because they believe in this issue,” Quade said.
The provision was approved 89-40 after three hours of debate, adding it to the elections bill which later received first-round approval Wednesday night.
The Senate on Thursday questioned the House’s correlation between the two topics.
“I don’t know exactly how that fits into that bill. We’ll see what happens when it comes over here,” Rowden said. “I would assume something like that would jeopardize our ability to get the larger package done.”
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) said there’s bigger fish to fry for lawmakers than to tell kids which sports they can and cannot play.
“In a state of 6 million people, we’re dominating session by talking about under 150 kids that want to play sports,” Rizzo said. “You have people in parts of this state that don’t have somewhere warm to sleep at night, you have teachers that are being grossly underpaid and a $1.8 billion surplus and you’re talking about kids’ sports.”
Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHAA), which oversees youth sports from grades K-12, already has a policy in place for transgender athletes, only allowing transgender females from competing on female sports teams after one year of hormone treatment.
It requires transgender females to fill out an application and documentation about their hormone treatments. Athletes born with “female” on their birth certificate are allowed to compete on boys’ teams according to MSHSAA.
Recently, U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s Twitter account was suspended for tweeting, “Women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women.”
The post has since been hidden and she’s been blocked from Twitter until she deletes it, which her campaign said won’t happen.
The bill needs one final vote from the House before moving to the Senate, where Rowden said he’s not sure about the future of the legislation.