Law & Principles
Ray Carter | April 8, 2021
‘Save Women’s Sports Act’ advances in Oklahoma
Legislation that would limit women’s sports to individuals who are biological females has been approved by a state House committee.
“Two out of every five young women in the state of Oklahoma choose to participate in sports,” said Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin. “And I’m trying to prevent those women from being denied opportunities when they have to compete against male-bodied athletes.”
Senate Bill 2 was amended by Hasenbeck to create the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The legislation’s key provision states, “Athletic teams designated for ‘females,’ ‘women’ or ‘girls’ shall not be open to students of the male sex.”
The legislation comes amidst growing national controversy over allowing transgender individuals—biological males who identify as female—to compete in women’s sports. Several lawmakers said allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports reduces the opportunity for success by those who are biological females.
Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, noted that “there are records being shattered” in women’s sports by transgender individuals who identify as women while retaining the physical advantages of male physiology.
“Scientifically, these are men bodies who are declaring themselves to be women, but they have testosterone, they have more muscle mass,” Humphrey said. “Scientifically, they are men.
He said physical advantages persist even after an individual has had surgery or undergone medication or hormone treatments.
“Typically, male rib cages are larger,” Hasenbeck said. “It allows for larger hearts. It allows for larger lungs—therefore an increased cardiovascular capacity that also creates more oxygen in your blood. It causes you to be able to lift more weight, run faster, jump higher. And then even on a muscular level, those myofibrils that belong to men behave differently when activated by nerves and other chemicals in the body.”
Hasenbeck said the legislation furthers the goals of the federal Title IX law originally enacted in 1972, which “honored the biological difference between males and females.” Because of that law’s passage, she said many “amazing female athletes” are now household names and role models for a wide range of children.
Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, vocally opposed the bill.
“Denying the existence of trans children is absolutely absurd,” Turner said.
Turner asked Hasenbeck, “Is it, in your opinion, that you can honor young women athletes without trying to deny the existence of trans youth?”
“Nothing in what I said has denied the existence of transgender youth,” Hasenbeck replied.
Turner self-describes as “gender non-conforming.” At one point in the meeting, when Humphrey, the committee chair, responded to Turner with a “yes ma’am,” Turner immediately responded, “Not ma’am.”
Under SB 2 any student “deprived of an athletic opportunity” or who “suffers any direct or indirect harm as a result” of violations of the Save Women’s Sports Act “shall have a cause of action for injunctive relief, damages and any other relief available permitted by law against the school.”
The legislation also states that any student “who is subject to retaliation or other adverse action by a school, school athletic association or intercollegiate association as a result of reporting a violation” of the Save Women’s Sports Act “shall have a cause of action for injunctive relief, damages and any other relief available permitted by law.”
SB 2 also prohibits the State Board of Education, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and any school athletic association or intercollegiate association “from entertaining a complaint, opening an investigation or taking any other adverse action against a school for maintaining athletic teams or sports for students of the female sex …”
SB 2 passed the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee on a 4-1 vote with Turner in opposition.
Following the meeting, Turner issued a press release, stating, “We need infrastructure, but my colleagues continue to double down on legislation that denies the existence of trans youth. Trans girls are girls—full stop.”
In the press release, Turner said, “We will continue to show up in the face of bigotry and anti-trans legislation. We have defeated other anti-LGBTQ2S+ and anti-trans legislation, and we will do it again—but we can’t do it without you and groups like ACLU of Oklahoma, Freedom Oklahoma and so many more.”
In that same release, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said SB 2 “ostracizes children and casts a dark cloud on our state’s reputation nationally. Our tax structure means nothing if businesses refuse to be associated with us due to the legislation we run.”
ACLU of Oklahoma and Freedom Oklahoma, a group that says its mission is “to secure lived equality and legal protection for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer people,” attacked the bill in a joint statement.
Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Allie Shinn said SB 2 “would prevent transgender young people from participating in sports” and “result in serious lasting harm to vulnerable children.”
“This fight is not about sports,” said Nicole McAfee, ACLU of Oklahoma director of policy and advocacy. “It’s about erasing and excluding transgender people from participation in all aspects of public life.”
McAfee added that if lawmakers “really wanted to protect fairness in women’s sports, they would tackle the actual threats to women’s sports such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies, and pay equity for coaches.”
The issue of transgender athletes in women’s sports is being debated not just in Oklahoma, but nationally.
In Connecticut, a lawsuit that has gained national prominence has been filed on behalf of three high-school girls who argue their opportunities have been harmed by having to compete against transgender athletes.
That lawsuit notes that the “basic physiological differences between males and females after puberty have long been recognized and respected by the different standards set for boys and girls in a number of athletic events.” The lawsuit points out that the net height used for women’s volleyball is more than seven inches lower than that used for men’s volleyball, the standard weight used in high school shot put is four kilograms for girls and 5.44 kilograms (36 percent heavier) for boys, and the hurdle height used for the high school girls’ 100-meter hurdle event is 33 inches compared to 39 inches in the boys’ high school 110-meter hurdle.
The Connecticut lawsuit also notes that in 2017 “thousands of men and boys achieved times in the 400m faster than the best lifetime performances of three women Olympic champions in that event. Each year, thousands of men—and dozens or hundreds of high school boys under the age of 18—achieve times (or heights or distances) in track events better than the world’s single best elite woman competitor that year.”
In 2019, Doriane Lambelet Coleman, a professor of law at Duke Law School, similarly testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary that allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports creates significant competitive disadvantages for female athletes.
Because of basic biological differences, Coleman said that “even at their absolute best, the women would lose to literally thousands of boys and men, including to thousands who would be considered second tier in the men’s category.”
“And because it only takes three male-bodied athletes to preclude the best females from the medal stand, and eight to exclude them from the track, it doesn’t matter if only a handful turn out to be gender nonconforming,” Coleman said.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.