By Zach Solon | April 22, 2021 at 7:32 PM EDT – Updated April 22 at 11:41 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – When House Bill 358, also known as the Save Women in Sports Act, was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly last month, Leslie Cohen was reminded of the struggles she faces as the mother of two transgender children.
“Every time one of these bills comes up, regardless of whether it’s going to become law or not, it causes distress in the community,” says Cohen, a Wilmington resident.
While her children are now grown and living on their own, Cohen believes the ability to participate in sports saved their lives when they were younger.
“My child would not be here today if they had not had their swim team,” says Cohen. “The only smiles I saw from my child for months, if not years, was coming out of swim practice. This is what’s at stake.”
If signed into law, the bill would require middle schools, high schools, and colleges in North Carolina to define their sports teams as being for men, women, or coed. Transgender females would be prohibited from playing on the women’s teams.
The bill defines sex “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Introduced by house republicans on March 22, the bill now sits in the judiciary committee. While Cohen believes the chances of the bill being signed into law anytime soon are slim, she says the emotional damage is done whenever bills that impact transgender student participation in sports are introduced.
“The fact that it was even introduced is causing distress for families that already have enough stress,” says Cohen. “These children are at risk. These children are struggling for acceptance.”
On Tuesday, the New Hanover County Schools Board of Education held their first reading of a policy change that would allow transgender middle school students to participate in sports with the gender they identify with. The policy will come before the board again in June before it can be voted on.
“We are just thinking about it and keeping our eye on what’s happening around the state and federal level,” says board member Stephanie Kraybill.
At the high school level, students who wish to play a sport with a team opposite their assigned sex must fill out a Gender Identity Request Form. According to Kraybill, no students in New Hanover County have filled out a form since it was introduced in 2019. This form applies to students who wish to play on a team opposite their assigned sex if the school has both men’s and women’s programs for the same sport.
“We’re not really trying to address any problem at this point because we don’t see it as a problem,” says Kraybill. “What we’re trying to do is have a policy that we can show to the students and parents and families that we are following.”
While Kraybill says the school board wants to have a policy in place in case a transgender student ever wants to participate in sports at the middle school level, parents like Cohen worry that the Save Women in Sports Act could reverse the potential policy.
“My biggest fear is that our school board is going to pull back on their plans to move forward for more inclusion to see what happens with this,” says Cohen.
Kraybill says that if House Bill 358 is signed into law, the school board will have to follow it, so they are taking steps now to do what they believe is best for New Hanover County students. Other board members agree that students should be able to play on teams designated for the gender they identify with.
“In middle school we don’t want to set up any barriers to participation from our transgender athletes, we just want to allow them to participate as the player in the gender with which they identify,” says board member Nelson Beaulieu.
For parents like Cohen, one of the reasons the bill is so controversial is because it impacts participation for students in their most formative years.
“We’re talking about kids in middle school, we’re talking about kids who want to play volleyball, we were talking about eighth graders were talking about high school freshman, B-teams,” says Cohen. “This is where most kids participate. This is where it’s important to participate.”
North Carolina is one of almost 30 states to propose legislation limiting transgender women from participating in women’s sports.
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