Georgia Senate passes restrictions on transgender student-athletes, sex education

State Sen. Clint Dixon, a Republican from Buford, speaks in favor of House Bill 1104 at the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

This story was updated March 27 at 8:59 a.m.

The Georgia Senate on Tuesday passed a controversial school sports bill that would ban transgender girls from competing on public school sports teams that match their gender identity. The bill would do the same for private schools competing against public schools. 

Democratic state Rep. Omari Crawford initially introduced House Bill 1104 to offer mental health resources to student-athletes. 

But Republican senators hijacked the bill during a committee meeting on March 19. They added the language from a litany of other controversial GOP-backed education bills that tackle several culture war issues. 

HB 1104 would also ban transgender girls from using locker rooms that match their gender identity when competing against other schools. This would apply to all public schools and participating private schools. 

The bill would additionally ban sex education before sixth grade and give parents more insight into what their kids check out from public school libraries — allowing them the option to be automatically notified whenever their child reserves school material. 

“My bill was to prevent suicide,” Crawford said about the legislation. “I don’t think that this bill does this now.”

State Rep. Omari Crawford talks about HB 1104, his bill that offered student-athletes mental health resources. Republican senators hijacked the bill to add a number of controversial measures. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Crawford said the language that conservative lawmakers tacked onto his bill would make school a less welcoming environment for students — transgender ones especially.

“This bill now points to people and says you’re different and if you’re different let’s exclude you,” he continued. “I think the language could potentially harm a lot of students.”

But not everyone agrees. 

“[This bill] protects children and empowers parents,” said state Sen. Clint Dixon, a Republican from Buford.

Dixon carried Crawford’s amended bill through the Senate. As he sees it, transgender girls shouldn’t be allowed to compete with cisgender girls. He said the bill creates an “even playing field” for Georgia children.

“This bill has many parts but they all have a common thread — by empowering parents and ensuring that children have a learning and competing environment in schools that is a safe atmosphere,” said Dixon.

Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes, a Democrat from Duluth, blasted the bill from the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“This Frankenstein bill cobbles together our most draconian and backwards thinking,” she said. 

Islam Parkes said the bill will cause “irreversible harm on students.” She added that for transgender students it is “not just discriminatory but a cruel negation of their humanity.”

Sen. Elena Parent criticized Senate Republicans for pushing through the new additions to the bill with no opportunity for public input.

“It betrays a lack of respect for voters to operate that way, it betrays a lack of seriousness about the jobs that we should be trying to do to vet legislation,” she said.

Dixon refuted the Democrats’ objections to the bill. 

The Senate passed the bill by vote of 33-21. It now goes back to the House, where it’s expected to face a steeper climb to passage. While the House is also controlled by Republicans, it’s often been a counterbalance to the Senate on such measures.

LGBTQ advocacy group Georgia Equality called the Senate’s passage of the bill “shameful.”

“Simply put, HB 1104 makes our states’ schools hostile toward transgender students,” Executive Director Jeff Graham said in a statement. “If this becomes law, kids could be denied the chance to play on a team, be active and learn about sportsmanship.”

“Denying transgender students a fair chance to play sports with their classmates, or forcing them into restrooms and locker rooms that don’t match their gender, puts them at increased risk of mental health challenge, harassment and bullying,” he added. “Our lawmakers need to stop this dangerous measure.”

Conservative religious groups have largely supported such measures.