OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – JD Runnels and his son James share a love for football.
Runnels played at the University of Oklahoma and in the National Football League and coached in the NFL last season. His son plays center for the eighth-grade team at Southridge Middle School in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City.
James was nearly kicked out of the game this season because his parents objected to the "biological sex certificate" that Oklahoma athletes from kindergarten through college are required to submit in order to participate. According to the author, part of the law is intended to ensure that only cisgender women can participate in all-female teams, asking what gender a student was at birth.
JD said James' mother believed it was a government violation and "none of their business." They considered not filing for their son, who is cisgender.
Runnels convinced her that her sons should play, but she found herself fascinated by the matter. Runnels said she learned the nuances of gender identity while teaching and coaching at Moore West (Oklahoma) High School.
"It's a very different conversation than it was 20 years ago, 30 years ago. "Those were things we didn't address."
"Boys will be boys, girls will be girls," I said. It is, Rannells added. – It's not like that. … This is a very, very multi-layered problem."
In March, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law the Save Women's Sports Act, one of several state laws in the country targeting transgender athletes. It prohibits elementary, middle school, high school and college athletes from competing on sports teams of their gender identity if they are different from their gender assigned at birth.
Oklahoma is reportedly the only state that requires what critics call a "gender pledge" declaration to play sports.
Critics of the law and the declaration say that such legislation has an ulterior motive. Many GOP-led states have raised culture war issues, energizing conservative voters ahead of November's midterm elections. Laws and Policies US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade has banned treatment for transgender children and banned books from public schools because of how they teach about race.
State Democrat Maury Turner became the first openly non-binary state legislator in US history in 2020. Turner, who uses the pronouns they/them, said the Oklahoma law hits hard.
"Sometimes I feel like this legislation will be passed by this Legislature after I'm elected," Turner said. “My whole community feels this, and we all have non-binary people in our constituencies, whether we want to represent them or not.
Turner said the law and the inauguration sent a dangerous message.
"These laws hurt not only when the governor signs them, but when they're written, when the public knows someone in power is coming for them, not in a good way." "Policy becomes law and it shows our kids, it shows the future of Oklahoma, how we treat them," Turner said.
Transgender woman Leah Thomas won the NCAA swimming championships in March, prompting several Republican-led states to pass laws against transgender athletes. State Sen. Michael Bergstrom, who authored the Oklahoma bill, said the declaration is merely a compliance mechanism.
"In sports, biological males have a physical advantage over biological females," said Bergstrom, a Republican. "So this law was needed to protect their integrity, to protect young women from losing everything from degrees to scholarships, and to ensure justice."
Whether there really is a problem to solve is debatable. A 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1.8% of approximately 15 million public high school students in the United States are transgender. A 2017 study by the Human Rights Campaign found that less than 15% of all transgender boys and girls participate in sports.
Opponents of the law say the actual number of students directly affected is small. What really matters, they say, is that conservative Republicans are targeting marginalized groups to score cheap political points. They say it's unclear how the information will be used, and the announcement could be a step toward tougher legislation.
"It's all part of the same agenda," said Hannah Roberts, an attorney for the ACLU of Oklahoma. "It's part of an anti-enlightenment, anti-liberal, anti-education, anti-transgender, anti-LGBTQ agenda. And so in the states where you see them favoring these agendas, we're going to see more and more of these kinds of bills.
The Utah High School Athletic Association has launched an undercover investigation into an athlete after receiving complaints from the parents of two girls he beat in competitions that the girls were transgender. The family was not informed that their children's registrations had been checked since they entered kindergarten.
Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, says it's troubling. His organization supports LGBTQ+ rights
“There's a lot of concern about how these gender oaths are going to be used, how they're going to be kept on file and what that might do to the investigation, which will cause additional damage as we see additional layers. implemented and implemented legislative acts," he said.
The Oklahoma bill does not create a mechanism for enforcing the new law. Any student or school district directly or indirectly affected by the violation could sue for damages and attorney's fees, he said, making the risk of the district not complying with the law impossible.
The Oklahoma High School Activities Association (OSSAA) provided a model for its member schools, but many used other means. Moore Public Schools includes the form along with other forms required for eligibility. At least one school has a notarized form in addition to the cost for families.
Oklahoma State says the rule has not affected its college athletes. The University of Oklahoma declined to say whether any of its athletes were injured. OSSAA does not track information because it is not an enforcement agency.
Democratic Rep. Jacob Rosecrantz of Oklahoma, who has a transgender son, said he has spoken to parents of transgender children who are worried about the future. He said that uniforms go a long way.
"If they're transgender, they're not transgender to be better at the sport, they're just playing because they love the sport, just like anyone else who is a cisgender man or a cisgender woman," he said. “So this is a massive, massive, massive breach of government. And I think it's funny."
AP writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report. AP's full coverage of the political fight for LGBTQ+ rights can be found at https://apnews.com/hub/gay-rights.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP