Maine gender identity law changes could remove protections for girls sports safety, competitiveness

Rep. Donna Bailey (second from left) listens to Senator Troy Jackson speak at an event. Rep. Maggie O’Neil (third from left) and Sen. Justin Chenette (far right) also listen. Rep. Bailey is the sponsor of LD 1703, which changes language state law around the participation of transgender students in school sports and extracurricular activities.

AUGUSTA – The Maine Principal Association’s rule governing transgender students participating in single sex high school sports says transgender students can participate in high school sports with the gender they identify with. But that rule makes exceptions that say if student athletes are put in danger of physical injury or an unfair competitive advantage is created by the participation of a transgender student, the transgender student may not be allowed to do so. A change to the Maine Human Rights Act currently in the Maine Legislature threatens to change that, not allowing for those exceptions to ensure safety and competitiveness.

In the policy, the Maine Principal’s Association says this is in keeping with a commitment to ensuring fair competition and providing adequate protection of student athletes.

An amended bill in the Maine Legislature threatens to undermine that MPA policy by changing the Maine Human Rights Act to place “gender identity” alongside other protected classes such as sex, sexual orientation, race, color and ancestry, among others.

As a result, some say that the Maine Principal’s Association rule will not be allowed to stay in place. Currently, the MPA procedure allows for a transgender student to request a hearing and go through a process that renders a decision no more than 12 days after the request. The hearing is conducted by the MPA’s Gender Identity Equity (GIE) Committee and reviews medical documentation, information from family and the student’s previous athletic participation, among other material.

The committee then is tasked with a hearing and decision, which includes weighing whether the student’s participation in the requested sport will endanger athletes or create an unfair competitive advantage. The GIE committee can also refuse a student’s participation if they determine the student’s claim to be transgender is not bona fide. The MPA policy says the committee shall grant the request unless one of those exceptions is found to exist.

The GIE Committee also has the option to limit the time period the student may participate, but only in cases where the student’s athletic ability may create an unfair advantage as they mature or create a danger to students.

L.D. 1703 appears set to change all that, instead making any denial of a student’s access to athletic programs or extracurricular activity that is based on their gender identity “unlawful educational discrimination.”

The bill has also drawn opposition from faith-based groups, with the Christian Civic League of Maine saying the bill would penalize faith-based organizations with a loss of funding simply for being who they are. That opposition appears to be broadly addressing the proposal as a whole and not specific to the changes to language around schools and extracurricular activities.

The amendment in question passed with the originally introduced legislation in the Maine House by a vote of 91-51. The vote was a party line vote, with Democrats in support of the language that threatens the MPA’s current policy on transgender student participation. Republicans were opposed to the bill and the four liberal “independents” legislators voted with Democrats. The amendment came with an “Ought to Pass” recommendation from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Most Democrats voted in favor of it, including Speaker Sara Gideon, and Democratic Leaders Rep. Ryan Fecteau and Rep. Matthew Moonen.

In the Maine Senate, a different version of the bill has been passed, putting the bill in what is termed “non-concurrence” between the chambers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the bill will die, however. The House version of the bill is now placed on the Senate calendar as “unfinished business.” That means it can be brought up at any time for a vote, at which point members of the Senate could vote to “concur” with the House and pass the House language.

The bill was recalled from Governor Janet Mills’ desk at the end of January by the bill sponsor, Rep. Donna Bailey. It was sent to the Maine Senate on February 4th and promptly tabled. Since that time is has appeared on the Maine Senate’s calendar as unfinished business.

Along with the changes to school sports and extracurricular activities, the law also would add new language around a wide scope of other important areas, including credit and housing protections, employment, public accommodations and more.

Read the bill:

http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP1218&item=9&snum=129

Read the Maine Principal’s Association Transgender Policy:

http://www.mpa.cc/images/pdfs/transgender-policy/transgender%20policy.pdf

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