Days after a sports ban for anti-trans youth was signed, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (right) couldn’t cite an example where a transgender child was given an unfair advantage in sports because of his gender identity.
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle dismantled the Republican governor in an interview on Friday morning. Justice signed a bill earlier this week that bans girls and transgender women from participating in women’s sports teams at “any public high school or public institution of higher education.”
Ruhle has repeatedly insisted on why he would prioritize a bill to deal with a threat that does not exist when the state of West Virginia has other very real issues, like a very low ranking in education, health care and infrastructure.
“Can you cite an example of a transgender child trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage in school in West Virginia?” Ruhle asked.
The MSNBC anchor asked the question twice before the court reluctantly replied that he had no example to support the anti-trans sports bill.
“No, I can’t really tell you one,” he said. “But I can tell you this, Stephanie. I am a coach and I coach a women’s basketball team. And I can tell you that we all know what an absolute advantage boys would have over girls.
Bills like West Virginia’s are rooted in the false belief that “biological men,” as the sponsors of these measures put it, will take over from women’s sport. In order to prevent this and allegedly protect cisgender girls and women, lawmakers are trying to ban all transgender children from participating in sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
“It’s a hassle-free solution,” said Rosemary Ketchum, a representative for the Wheeling, West Virginia city council, who is also trans. “At the end of the day, these are not issues that preoccupy Virginians in the West, whether they support trans rights or oppose it. It’s just not a conversation we have on the ground. So, for it to take so much political oxygen, it is disconcerting.
The more Ruhle pushed Justice in the MSNBC interview, the more frustrated he became. “I think we only have maybe 12 kids in our state who are transgender type kids,” he said. “For crying out loud, Stephanie – I sign hundreds of bills. It is not a priority for me. “
There are over 12 trans teens in Governor’s State, in fact. West Virginia is one of the main states in the United States with the number of teens per capita who identify as transgender, according to a 2017 study from the Williams Institute. The Williams Institute has found that about one in 100 teenagers aged 13 to 17 would be transgender in the state of West Virginia.
Justice isn’t the only Republican lawmaker pushing anti-trans legislation with absolutely no evidence to back up its claims. Lawmakers across the country are struggling to find examples where they felt transgender girls had unfairly won because of their gender identity. In March, The Associated Press contacted two dozen state lawmakers who are supporters of these bills as well as conservative groups supporting anti-trans measures. The outlet only found a handful of times this was a problem.
South Carolina Representative Ashley Trantham (right) told the AP she does not know of any trans athletes competing in her state, but proposed a ban on anti-trans sports to ensure that does not would not become a problem in the future. Tennessee House President Cameron Sexton (R) also admitted to the AP that he did not know any trans athletes in the state but, like Trantham, said he was trying to be “proactive” to avoid any future problem.
As Ketchum pointed out, while there is no evidence that there is an inherent competitive advantage in transgender children, these bills are about something else entirely.
“I think what is at stake is that trans people are being used like a red herring or a false enemy to gain points with a political base,” she said.
West Virginia is one of more than 30 states to introduce legislation targeting LGBTQ children in 2021. In the first four months of this year, states introduced 120 bills specifically targeting transgender youth, and more than half of these would prohibit transgender children from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. The rest of these bills target healthcare for trans and non-binary children by attempting to criminalize parents or doctors for providing sex-affirming medical care.
Ruhle ended his scathing interview on a particularly poignant note.
“Thank you, and come back when, beyond the anecdotal feelings as a coach, you can show me where these young women are at a disadvantage in your state,” she said. “Because I can show you how such a low education ranking puts young women and men in West Virginia at a disadvantage.”
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