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Debate over transgender sports ban brings Alaska House to a standstill • Alaska Beacon


More than 10 hours after opening debate on a bill that would ban transgender girls from girls’ sports teams in Alaska, the Alaska House of Representatives remained stuck on the issue late Saturday.

As the legislative session ended Wednesday, the lengthy debate forced the postponement of other priority business, including legislation addressing crime, the lingering energy crisis along the Rail Belt, and other education topics.

Republican members of the House of Representatives, with one exception, support the bill, while a coalition of Democrats, independents and one Republican pledged to use all possible means to defeat it.

The result Saturday was a grinding, trench warfare-like legislative process that saw the bill’s supporters defeat or put forward opposition amendments, one by one, for hours.

“We’re doing this on behalf of women, young women and girls who want to participate in women’s sports,” said Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.

He said the bill’s supporters don’t believe transgender women are women, and allowing transgender girls to participate on girls’ sports teams “would not have any women’s sports to participate in, which would be disappointing.”

Opponents of the bill argued vehemently, and at times passionately, that transgender women are women and deserve equal treatment under the law.

“Trans girls in sports are not a threat to any other girl,” said Rep. Donna Mears, D-Anchorage.

Rep. Louise Stotts, R-Kodiak and the lone Republican against House Bill 183, raises her hands during a debate with Rep. Delaina Johnson, R-Palmer, on Saturday, May 11, 2024, to illustrate the number of known transgender girls in school sports within Alaska.  (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak and the lone Republican against House Bill 183, raises her hands during a debate with Rep. Delaina Johnson, R-Palmer, on Saturday, May 11, 2024, to explain the number of known transgender girls in school sports within Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Opposition lawmakers had known for months that the bill would likely reach the House floor and prepared dozens of amendments in an attempt to kill the bill by prolonging debate.

On Saturday morning, as the majority in the House of Representatives prepared to table these amendments without debate, opposition lawmakers became angry and refused to vote, halting the proceedings.

“If you want to set this precedent of just putting up minority amendments because you don’t like them, you’re going to reap what you sow for years to come,” said House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, D-Anchorage.

That statement drew loud voices from House Republicans who saw it as a personal threat against House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and told Schrage he should “take him outside” with them.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, prepares his playbook to raise a point of order against House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, prepares his playbook to raise a point of order against House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

“You brought this on us! You are the majority. You said this is your priority. Give us the right to stand up for the children in our districts who you are harming because of this,” said Rep. Jenny Armstrong, an Anchorage Democrat, shouting across the House chambers.

“Yes, well, you’re discriminating against women!” Rep. Jimmy Allard, R-Eagle River, shouted.

“I’m a woman, Jimmy!” Armstrong responded louder.

A short break brought more interruptions and delays.

“You’re making a mockery of this,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake.

“You’re making a mockery of this bill,” Armstrong said.

“Oh, stop,” McCabe said.

“It’s not a bill. It’s an attack on children in our state!” Armstrong responded.

Armstrong, who identifies as bisexual, and Democratic Rep. Andrew Gray, a gay man from Anchorage, were among the bill’s most ardent opponents, as was Rep. Alice Galvin, D-Anchorage, who has a transgender daughter.

“One of my four daughters won’t come to this building. She’s very uncomfortable here. It breaks my heart,” Galvin said.

After Armstrong’s heated discussions, Tilton and Schrage negotiated a compromise that allowed the opposition to offer some amendments.

The compromise agreement set a strict time limit for each lawmaker to speak about the amendment, but even with this restriction, each amendment took 15 minutes or more, and there were dozens.

Members of the Alaska House Majority Caucus meet in a corner of the House chambers on Saturday, May 11, 2024 to discuss potential rules for debate on House Bill 183. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Members of the Alaska House Majority Caucus meet in a corner of the House chambers on Saturday, May 11, 2024 to discuss potential rules for debate on House Bill 183. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

In order to save time, the bill’s supporters declined to talk about each proposal. This left the field open to opponents of the bill, who said the bill implicitly affected the state’s constitutional right to privacy. It will require girls to prove that their sex at birth – as shown on their birth certificate and medical tests – matches their gender identity.

“When you ask women to give up their constitutional rights to play sports…it’s shameful that this is where we think we should be on Day 117 of the Legislature,” said Rep. Sarah Hannan, D-Juneau.

Opposition lawmakers have repeatedly offered procedural exit lanes to majority members, saying they are willing to move forward on the issue, if the majority is willing.

But the Republican majority voted to reject requests to introduce the bill and postpone it indefinitely, which led to continued debate.

As debate continued into the night, lawmakers realized an important fact: Even after the amendments were finalized, a final vote on the bill itself would not take place until the next legislative day, promising further delays.

“There’s so much hate out there. Why would we move forward with a bill that would lead to more hate and discrimination? It’s crazy,” Schrag said.

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