Days after signing an anti-trans youth sports ban, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) couldn’t point to one example of when a transgender child was given an unfair advantage in sports due to their gender identity.
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle dismantled the Republican governor during a Friday morning interview. Justice signed a bill into law earlier this week that prohibits trans girls and women from competing on women’s sports teams at “any public secondary school or state institution of higher education.”
Ruhle repeatedly pressed Justice on why he would prioritize a bill to address a threat that doesn’t exist when the state of West Virginia has other very real problems, such as ranking very low in education, health care and infrastructure.
“Can you name one example of a transgender child trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage at school there in West Virginia?” Ruhle asked.
The MSNBC anchor asked the question twice before Justice begrudgingly responded that he has no examples to back up the anti-trans sports bill.
“No, I can’t really tell you one,” he said. “But I can tell you this, Stephanie. I’m a coach and I coach a girl’s basketball team. And I can tell you that we all know what an absolute advantage boys would have playing against girls.”
Bills like the one in West Virginia are rooted in the false belief that “biological men,” as sponsors of these measures say, will take over women’s sports. In order to prevent this and to allegedly protect cisgender girls and women, lawmakers are trying to ban all transgender children from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identities.
“This is a solution without a problem,” said Rosemary Ketchum, a City Council representative in Wheeling, West Virginia, who is also trans. “Ultimately these are not issues that West Virginians care about, whether they’re in favor of trans rights or opposed to them. It’s just not a conversation we’re having on the ground. So for this to take up so much political oxygen, it’s disconcerting.”
The more Ruhle pushed Justice in the MSNBC interview, the most frustrated he became. “I think we only have 12 kids maybe in our state that are transgender type kids,” he said. “For crying out loud, Stephanie ― I sign hundreds of bills. This is not a priority to me.”
There are more than 12 trans teens in the governor’s state, actually. West Virginia is one of the leading states in the U.S. with the number of teens per capita who identify as transgender, according to 2017 research from Williams Institute. The Williams Institute found that about one in 100 teenagers from 13 to 17 are estimated to be transgender in the state of West Virginia.
Justice is not the only Republican lawmaker pushing anti-trans legislation with absolutely zero evidence to back up his claims. Lawmakers across the country are having trouble finding examples in which they felt transgender girls unfairly won due to their gender identity. In March, The Associated Press reached out to two dozen state lawmakers who are proponents of such bills as well as conservative groups supporting anti-trans measures. The outlet only found a handful of times in which this was an issue.
South Carolina Rep. Ashley Trantham (R) told AP she knew of zero trans athletes competing in her state but proposed an anti-trans sports ban to ensure it did not become a problem in the future. Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) also admitted to AP that he did not know of any trans athletes in the state but, similar to Trantham, said he was trying to be “proactive” to prevent any future issues.
As Ketchum pointed out, if there’s no evidence that there’s some inherent competitive advantage for trans kids, these bills are about something else entirely.
“It’s my perspective that what is at play is that trans people are used as a red herring or false enemy to win points with a political base,” she said.
West Virginia is one of over 30 states that have introduced legislation targeting LGBTQ children in 2021. In just the first four months of this year, states have introduced 120 bills targeting transgender youth specifically, and over half of those would ban trans kids from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities. The remainder of those bills target health care for trans and non-binary kids by attempting to criminalize parents or doctors for providing gender-affirming medical care.
Ruhle completed her scathing interview on a particularly poignant note.
“Thank you, and please come back when beyond anecdotal feelings as a coach you can show me evidence where those young women are being disadvantaged in your state,” she said. “Because I can show you evidence about how ranking that low in education is disadvantaging young women and men in West Virginia.”