By Allyson Waller, The Texas Tribune

Amid their Democratic colleagues’ push to halt GOP priority voting legislation, Senate Republicans passed two bills on Wednesday that would restrict transgender student athletes from participating on sports teams that do not correspond with their sex assigned at birth.

The legislation received overwhelming Republican support, and it’s one of 11 priorities on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda. Now, however, it is in limbo because there are currently not enough members of the House in Austin to form a quorum.

Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 32 would allow student athletes to participate only on sports teams that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate at or near the time of birth. SB 32, authored by Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would apply the restrictions in K-12 public schools, while SB 2, also authored by Perry, would cover both K-12 schools and public colleges and universities.

On Wednesday, senators took up the committee substitute for SB 2, which added the stipulation that allows students to sue a school district or public higher education institution that violates the law.

Both bills passed 19-3 with three Senate Democrats — Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen — voting against them. One Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joined the Republicans. A handful of Senate Democrats had joined their House counterparts in Washington D.C. to push for federal voting rights legislation.

The UIL does recognize changes made to a student’s current birth certificate, such as when a transgender person has the sex on their birth certificate changed to correspond with their gender identity. However, recognizing these changes would not be allowed under SB 2 and SB 32.

Perry said he worried that people would attempt to change the gender marker on their birth certificate in order to gain a competitive advantage by joining a sports team that does not correspond to the person’s sex assigned at birth.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Perry pressed the argument that failure to pass SB 2 and SB 32 would a hurt the “integrity” of women’s sports and that transgender girls and women on women’s sports teams would present safety risks to other student athletes.

Senate Democrats continued to attack Perry’s stance through their detailed questioning. Hinojosa asked whether the bill would conflict with guidelines from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and prevent the NCAA from holding events in the state. Perry said it would not.

“My understanding is that the [NCAA] rules are to be inclusive,” Hinojosa said.

In April, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs college sports, released a statement saying it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports.”

Whitmire said he worried how the legislation would hurt transgender children and affect their mental health, citing disproportionate rates of depression and suicide among transgender children.

“It’s documented that the team sports and activities for youngsters that are transgender … helps them deal with their [gender] identity, it helps them with their family, their siblings, their classmates,” Whitmire said. “And when you deny that, there is a strong propensity to commit suicide.”

According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 42% of LGBTQ youth, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, considered attempting suicide in the past year.

SB 2 and SB 32 advanced out of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee on Monday on a 6-0 vote, with only Republican members present.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, committee member Sen. Borris L. Miles, D-Houston, said if he were in Austin on Monday, he would have voted against SB 2 and SB 32. Miles said with no quorum in the Texas House, “nothing the Senate passes this session will become law.”

“SB 2 and SB 32 will be back in the next special session,” Miles said. “I will be back as well to defend the rights of the kids these bills are targeting.”

Committee members Sen. César J. Blanco, D-El Paso, and Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, said in separate statements that they oppose the legislation and will both continue to advocate for the rights of transgender Texans.

The hourslong committee hearing on Monday included passionate testimony from both sides. Proponents of the legislation, many wearing varying shades of pink and stickers that said “Protect Girls Sports,” argued that allowing transgender girls and women in women’s sports would hinder competition and scholarship opportunities for cisgender girls and women.

On Wednesday Perry hinted that the hours of testimony heard this week will need to be repeated.

“It’s sad that we’re going to get to do this one again, unfortunately, and run through this process one more time,” he said.

Andrea Segovia, policy and field coordinator with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said she and others are tired of sitting through hours of hearings on bills targeting transgender people. If Democrats succeed in derailing the special session by denying Republicans a quorum, going through another special session will be more draining, she said.

“It’s literally between a rock and a hard place. Like if [Democrats] stayed, we’d be in this battle and [with] them not being here, we’re still in this battle,” she said. “There’s no winning, and I think that’s the saddest part for the people of Texas.”