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Debate heats up over Michigan Senate bill targeting transgender student athletes

Posted at 4:30 PM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 18:33:32-04

(WXYZ) —

Today marks the start of pride month, and as many celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, a bill that would block transgender student athletes from playing based on their gender identity is currently being reviewed in the Michigan legislature.

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Senate bill 218 would make it Michigan law that students must compete based on birth gender. It received a fierce debate in its first hearing.

“The transgender kids that I knew wanted nothing to do with sports really, they just wanted to walk through the halls and be accepted, so what is your personal experience? If you don’t have any, just say you don’t have any, with transgender kids in your life and in your community trying to take home medals in sports? Or can you just cite the Connecticut example and that’s it?" said State Senator Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, who grilled multiple out-of-state advocates who gave testimony.

A California doctor argued the bill provides equality, ensuring female student-athletes can succeed.

“One third of boys are better than 99 percent of the girls statistically speaking," said Dr. Gabriel Higerd. "The best girl in the state would never get remotely close to winning if there were not sex-segregation.”

Higerd added, “the fastest girl in Michigan in both the 100 and 200, a super star in every way, would be beaten by 212 boys in the 100 and 295 boys in the 200 meters.”

Sen. Polehanki addressed Higerd's and other's comments.

“You seem to have a lot of stats about Michigan. Do you know how many student athletes there are in Michigan? [I do not] It’s 180,000. Do you know in the past 5 years how many transgender kids have applied to play sports in Michigan? [I’m not aware of…] Yea, the answer is 10,” said Sen. Polehanki.

That statistic is from the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

MHSAA told 7 Action News in a statement:

“We believe this legislation is unnecessary for a few reasons. We have averaged two inquiries per year related to our transgender policy over the last five years …
our policy is effective and compassionate, our schools are happy with it, and it has been followed without issue.”

Two inquires per year with 180,000 student-athletes competing each year equates to 0.001111 percent. It's a reason opponents say the bill is a solution looking for a problem.

“Bills like this are aiming to find an issue. So, there is no issue. There’s never been an issue with trans sports. Folks, young people join sports for all reasons. And most of the biggest reasons are to feel included, maybe to increase their activities outside the home and to feel like a part of something,” said Liliana Angel Reyes, director of Youth Drop In at the Ruth Ellis Center.

Data compiled by GLSEN shows inclusion is already difficult for LGBTQ youth.The vast majority reporting to frequently hear anti-LGBTQ remarks.

Michigan Snapshot 2019 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

Michigan’s 2020 teacher of the year, who is transgender, is weighing in on the legislation.

"If the school’s job is to welcome students into classrooms where they are respected supported and loved, and I believe that it is, this bill if passed will no longer make that fully possible for transgender students in Michigan,” said Owen Bondono, 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year.

Both sides of the debate argue equality, and safety.

For some proponents, they point to physical arguments:

“Girls are injured more often than boys when they play sports and if playing against those who are larger and stronger are significantly more susceptible to injury,” said Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton.

For some opponents, they point to the mental dangers of the bill:

"Can be dangerous psychologically and it can be destructive," said Rachel Crandall-Crocker, executive director of Transgender Michigan.

Senate Bill 0218 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd