School sports bill confronts Vermont’s LGBTQ+-friendly image

By PETER D’AURIA

VTDigger

Published: 04-13-2023 10:19 PM

Across the country, transgender children have found themselves on the front lines of the culture wars.

Fifteen states have banned gender-affirming care for people under 18, according to the Human Rights Campaign, affecting nearly 30% of trans youth in the country. Twenty-one ban trans youth from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

Vermont, which prides itself on its LGBTQ+-friendly image, can seem like a haven from the transphobia that has gripped much of the nation. But over the past few months, it’s become clear that the state is not immune.

Last fall, a conflict over a trans athlete in a Randolph Union High School locker room sparked international coverage on conservative news outlets and a “wildfire of bigotry,” according to the student’s mother.

In February, a Quechee Christian school forfeited a girls’ basketball game rather than play against a team with a trans player. (The school was subsequently banned from school athletics.)

And earlier this month, four Republican lawmakers introduced a bill in the Vermont House that would bar trans girls and women from competing in school sports.

The short-form bill, H.413, is titled “An act relating to protecting the competitive integrity and safety of girls and women in sports” and is sponsored by Rep. Arthur Peterson, R-Clarendon, Rep. Larry Labor, R-Morgan, Rep. Terri Lynn Williams, R-Granby, and Rep. Charles Wilson, R-Lyndon.

According to its statement of purpose, the bill “proposes to prohibit individuals that were assigned the sex of male at birth” from competing in schools’ girls athletics programs.

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In an interview Wednesday, Peterson said that he had introduced the bill after hearing concerns from constituents about competition and safety.

“I want to emphasize to anybody that reads your article: This is not about hating anybody,” Peterson said. “OK? This is not about denying anybody that ability to play sports. They can play sports, but on the team that their physical nature tells them they should play on.”

Asked if he was aware of any injuries caused by a trans athlete, Peterson said, “I haven’t heard of any yet.”

Peterson’s bill is all but certainly doomed. It flies in the face of current Vermont policy, under which athletes are allowed to compete on the sports team that matches their gender identities. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has also voiced opposition.

“Let them be who they are, and let them play,” he said at a press conference last week.

And Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, the chair of the House Committee on Education, which is in possession of the bill, cast doubt on the possibility that the bill — introduced after the session’s crossover deadline — would advance.

“If the committee is interested in taking it up in January, they can certainly ask to,” he said. “However, it is contrary to many of our discrimination protections in the state. And so it is definitely not a priority.”

But even so, the bill was a surprise, said Rep. Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski, who is trans and has spoken out against the bill.

“Gosh, we often like to portray ourselves as a very progressive state and that we are exempt from the hatred that we’re seeing across the nation,” she said Wednesday, adding, “And yet, legislation like this reminds us that that is not consistent across the state of Vermont. And it’s not consistent in this building.”

The bill is a “signal that hatred is right here,” she said. “That our political parties are not exempt from the playbooks that we’re seeing across the nation.”

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