Transgender youth sports participation back on the table in Maryland General Assembly


MARYLAND – Transgender female student athletes’ right to compete on the team they identify with is once again up for debate in Maryland. Supporters say it’s in the name of fairness and safety. However, LGBTQ+ advocates say it’s nothing more than an attack on transgender youth.

House Bill 359

Under House Bill 359, junior varsity and varsity girls sports teams would be expressly designated based on biological sex. It would also bar governmental and athletic associations from filing suit against school districts that enforce that rule. The legislation adds that student athletes, who feel they have been discriminated against because the school allowed a transgender child to compete on their team, may sue the school district or athletic organization. Lastly, the bill would allow school districts to sue governmental and athletic organizations, should they suffer “any direct or indirect harm” at their hands in such situations.

“It ensures that girls who qualify for high school junior varsity and varsity sports are competing against other biological girls,” said bill sponsor Delegate Kathy Szeliga. “It’s about protecting girls’ opportunities for success in competitive sports. There must be fairness, and safety, in sports for girls to hold state records, qualify for collegiate scholarships, and find success.”

Fighting For Fairness and Safety, Says Bill Sponsor

Del. Szeliga claims that nationally, cisgender high school athletes are repeatedly losing out on opportunities to their transgender counterparts.

“Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination is based on sex, male and female. It does not sanction males with distinct biological, physiological advantages, regardless of treatment, to compete in female sports,” said Del. Szeliga.
During Wednesday’s bill hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee, Del. Szeliga also said it was happening on the collegiate level. She cited the story of transgender female athlete Lia Thomas. Del. Szeliga argued that when Thomas was competing on the men’s University of Pennsylvania swimming team, she ranked in the mid 400s nationally. Adding, Thomas then went on to break records competing on the women’s team in March of 2022.

In January of 2022, the NCAA began discussions on allowing transgender women to compete in women’s events, only after they have been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for a certain length of time, and tests show their testosterone is below certain levels. The policy went into effect on August 1st, 2022.

Del. Szeliga says the bill also comes out of a concern for the safety of cisgender female athletes.

“Male bodies have larger hearts and lungs, significantly heavier bone density, and different skeletal structure. Science tell us that they have bigger bones, muscle capacity, larger feet, and hands,” said Del. Szeliga. “The male advantage ranges from 10% in distance running to 160% stronger in punching.”

During the hearing, Del. Szeliga was asked for specific data on incidents of spiking injury rates as a result of transgender female athletes participating in high school sports. She was not able to provide any numbers, but promised an expert would give the information to the committee in the future.

Support for the Bill

Del. Szeliga is just one of 33 co-sponsors on the “Save Women’s Sports Act”. During the bill hearing Wednesday, proponents of the bill provided extensive supporting testimony.

Kacie Moon, Board President of the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), was one of those hand-picked by Del. Szeliga to testify in support of the bill. WoLF is a self-described radical feminist organization, which says it aims “to restore, protect, and advance the rights of women and girls using legal argument, policy advocacy, and public education.”

Moon, a former varsity athlete, argued that transgender peoples’ identities are in the same vein as those who claim to be a race they are not, or someone who might shirk adult responsibilities by intentionally regressing in age.

“There is no such thing as being born in the wrong body. Gender ideology is based on flimsy, backwards, sexist stereotypes. It’s ridiculous to identify as a girl just because you like dresses, just as it is to identify as being Black because you love basketball, or as a child because you don’t want to pay taxes,” said Moon in her testimony.

Another argument put forth by Moon, was that progress on the front of transgender peoples’ rights and freedom would only set women’s rights back.

“Their inclusion comes at the direct expense of women’s rights, which were only won in our lifetime. You cannot have both. Trans rights nullify sex protected rights in every meaningful way,” said Moon.

Opposition for the Bill

While many testified in support of the bill, many others argued against it.

“Requiring athletic teams to be based on biological sex is blatantly discriminatory, damaging to children’s mental health, and incredibly demeaning to their self esteem,” said Sharon Blinder Hill, the mother of a transgender person.

Shamoyia Gardiner, Executive Director of Strong Schools Maryland (SSM), also urged lawmakers to squash the legislation. SSM is a self-described grassroots campaign to “advocate, build power, and share resources with invested Maryland residents to co-create strong public schools that produce graduates equipped to thrive.”

“When we marginalize any group of people based on who they are, we lay the foundation for our own marginalization and oppression,” said Gardiner. “The existence of students is not political until the point when politicians bring them in as scapegoats for issues that need to be addressed in other ways.”

Lee Blinder, the State Policy Fellow for GLSEN, an education organization geared toward fighting or LGBTQ+ students rights, also testified. They implied that excluding transgender youth from participating on the team of their choice is contradictory in terms of Del. Szeliga’s message of fairness and inclusion.

“We want [transgender female or intersex athletes] to know that we find this bill targeting you to be in bad faith, a misunderstanding of science and biology, and an openly bigoted act against girls like yourselves, who just want to have fun,” said Blinder. “Plainly, this bill seeks to criminalize the involvement of transgender and intersex girls in sports. The reality is that trans and intersex people have always existed, in cultures all over the world.”

Blinder also cited data indicating that transgender female athletes’ own wellbeing would be put at risk under the bill.

“The American Medical Association submitted a friend of the court brief recently that stated, and I quote, ‘In order for transgender females to live their lives fully in accordance with their gender identity, they must be able to publicly identify, and compete, as female athletes,'” said Blinder.

Blinder Hill added that to date, there is no evidence of unfairness as a result of those athletes’ participation.

“The American Psychological Association states that there is no evidence to support claims that allowing transgender student athletes to play on the team that fits their gender identity would impact the fairness of the sport,” said Blinder Hill.

Looking Ahead

An version of this bill was introduced last session as well. Del. Szeliga says the main difference is that this iteration focuses specifically on junior varsity and varsity sports. “It does not include any other leagues, or any other sporting opportunities,” she said.

Lawmakers did not vote on the bill in the hearing Wednesday. The legislation remains in the Ways and Means Committee.

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