HELENA — Montana lawmakers amended Tuesday a bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing in school and college sports according to the gender with which they identify. Under the amendment, the measure would be nullified if the federal government withholds education funding from the state as a result of the policy.
The concern over funding loss stems from an executive order signed by President Joe Biden during his first days in office banning discrimination based on gender. Montana universities receive around $350 million annually in federal funding, of which $250 million goes towards student loans and grants to cover tuition costs — money that university officials say could be on the line.
The Montana bill has already received initial approval from the state House and Senate. A GOP-dominated committee comprised of House and Senate members voted along party lines to amend the bill after a short discussion, with Republicans in favor. The amended bill would allow for the policy to be reversed after the state completes a full appeal process of any decision by the federal government to withhold funding.
The measure heads to a final vote by the House and Senate before advancing to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.
Activists protested in front of the state capitol Monday, calling on Gianforte to veto the bill if it is passed by the Legislature. Gianforte has not commented on whether he supports the measure or another bill also advancing this year that would ban gender-affirming surgery for transgender minors in the state.
Similar bills banning transgender athletes from school sports were proposed in more than 20 states this year, and have already been signed into law this year in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. In Idaho, a similar law was blocked by a court ruling last year.
Supporters of the Montana measure say it will keep the playing field fair in women’s sports.
“You have a human right not to be discriminated against, but you do not have a sports right,” bill sponsor GOP Rep. John Fuller said Tuesday.
Opponents — including students, athletes and human rights advocates — say the measure would further harm already marginalized transgender youth in the state.
“The fact that we are spending a single moment deciding who’s allowed to play sports as a kid in a way that’s going to require coaches and people on those teams to do invasive privacy-destroying genital exams is shocking to me,” Democratic Sen. Bryce Bennett said.
Opponents have also raised concern over statements by the NCAA that the organization would revoke the opportunity to host championship events in states where such laws have been enacted, including popular football events in the Montana’s two largest universities.
“Some of our best and brightest athletes may be really compromised by this bill,” Democratic Rep. Tom France said.
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