CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Transgender athletes in West Virginia would be banned from competing in female sports in middle and high schools and colleges under a bill that won approval from the legislature Friday.
The bill heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has not publicly commented on the matter. His office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
The House of Delegates approved it 80-20 after the Senate passed a version Thursday that expands its focus to include college sports.
Del. Amy Summers, the Republican majority leader, admitted before lawmakers voted that the “NCAA could retaliate and not host a tournament here.”
Last month hundreds of college athletes signed a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors asking the organization to refuse to schedule championships in states that have banned transgender athlete participation in sports.
The NCAA in 2016 moved championships out of North Carolina in response to a bill legislating transgender people’s use of public restrooms.
In the Senate, where it narrowly passed on a 18-15 vote, several senators from both parties said they were opposed to the college component of the bill.
Republicans in at least 20 state legislatures have been pushing for similar transgender athlete bans this year. Governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee signed prohibitions into law last month. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem killed a similar ban last month, then issued weaker executive orders that included restrictions.
A 2017 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school used state-level, population-based surveys to estimate that West Virginia had the highest percentage (1.04%) of residents ages 13 to 17 among all states who identified as transgender. That equated to about 1,150 teens.
Republican Del. John Mandt defended the bill and said it could drive residents to move into the state.
To which Democratic Del. Cody Thompson replied: “This isn't going to bring people to West Virginia. This just sends a message across the country that we're closed minded and we don't accept you for who you are.”
A day after passionate Senate debate on the measure lasted 90 minutes, the House approved the bill in a fraction of the time. Several Democrats said the bill was discriminatory, while some Republicans said the bill was about ensuring an equal playing field for biologically female athletes.
Supporters have argued that transgender athletes would have physical advantages in female sports.
“It has nothing to do with discriminating against transgender and LGBTQ folks,” Republican Del. Roger Conley said. “Why is it fair that my granddaughter would be on a basketball team with someone that was born a biological male?”
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission has not received any complaints about transgender athletes on girls teams. SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan has said the SSAC is unaware of openly transgender students participating in scholastic sports currently or in the past.