CHEYENNE – Newly-appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder said he considers transgender identities a symptom of societal issues, as he spoke Monday in support of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, was introduced to the Senate Education Committee in hopes of “prohibiting biological males from athletic teams and sports designated for females in public schools.” Although multiple legislators sponsoring Senate File 51 asked for approval, no vote was taken due to significant testimony from students and stakeholders running out the clock. The committee is expected to resume consideration of the bill Wednesday morning.
The majority of those who testified Monday fought against the bill’s sponsors, and Schroeder’s perspective, saying it was among the reasons students were leaving the state and never returning.
But the newly appointed leader of Wyoming K-12 education said the bill was necessary, and painted his own picture as to why. He said the root was in 100 years of diagnostic history regarding gender dysphoria, which is the feeling of severe discomfort in a person’s biological sex.
“When these children were left alone, when no one intervened medically, or encouraged what we now call social transition, over 70% of them naturally outgrew their gender dysphoria,” he told the committee. “Most of those who outgrew it became gay men. Those who did not outgrow it became what used to be known as transsexuals.”
He said today these children are not left alone. Instead, they are labeled as transgender, encouraged to use their preferred pronouns, and doctors and therapists affirm their diagnosis to help them medically transition. When discussing why transgender men might transition, he said it was a combination of girls being susceptible to high anxiety, depression and body-hate.
“Combined with a school environment where you can achieve status and popularity by declaring a trans identity, combined with a teenage temptation to stick it to mom, combined with intoxicating influence of social media, where trans activists push the idea that identifying as trans will cure a girl’s problems,” he said, “and you have a fast-spreading social phenomenon.”
He said this “social contagion” is what leads to bills such as the Equality Act, or violent biological male prisoners applying to transfer to women’s units. But legislation such as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, he said, might serve as a guard for women in sports having to address the issue or endure the enormous setback of having to compete against biological males.
Schroeder was met with pushback from University of Wyoming student-athletes, counselors and regional LGBTQ+ advocates. Representatives from the Wyoming Counseling Association sent in a letter against the bill before the committee met Monday, which spoke unknowingly to the points made by Schroeder.
“Gender dysphoria, the DSM diagnosis that transgender people are diagnosed with, is best treated by gender-affirming health care and allowing that person to live as the gender they identify in all aspects of their life,” it stated. “If a person is not allowed to live as their identified gender for whatever reason, it often leads to death by suicide. Transgender girls and women are transitioning because their lives depend on it. There is no other choice.”
Lifelong Wyoming resident and University of Wyoming student Hannah Crockett was the first to speak to legislators, and shared her own personal experience with this kind of loss.
She described her close friend and debate team member Mack Kramer as an incredible individual, with the least-interesting thing about them being their gender. Kramer came out as transgender during their first year of college in 2020 and died by suicide last September.
“My friend is no longer here,” Crockett said. “They cannot be the one to tell you about their struggle with being transgender at UW and in Wyoming. So, I’m here to do it.”
She shared an article with the Senate Education Committee that her peer wrote before their death, citing 30% of transgender women, 42% of nonbinary people and 50% of transgender men attempting death by suicide in their lifetime. Kramer encouraged legislators to provide opportunities and spaces for transgender individuals to participate in a supportive, loving and growing community.
Peri Hennigar, a member of the university’s track team, agreed with the departed student’s sentiment. She spoke with her teammates and fellow athletes to see if they considered transgender women competing alongside them as unfair, which she said many didn’t because they understood the importance of the experience.
“Without sports, I would be nowhere near the person I am today,” she said. “By moving this bill further through the legislative process and signing it into law, you’re directly violating this place of safety and community for so many. You’re preventing students from being able to get the same sense of purpose and passion that athletic participation creates, especially in a state where sports play such a big role in everyone’s life.”
The sponsor of the bill, Schuler, saw it as the opposite. As a lifelong athlete and coach herself, she said she wanted to prevent a harmful environment for students at the high school and collegiate level.
“Every transgender athlete or male athlete who identifies as a female destroys fair competition for biological females,” she testified. “They displace girls and women, and they take away playing time, recognition, scholarship opportunities and potentially have some of those same biological females decide to drop out of sports. I think we should care about their mental state, as well, if they end up giving up sports because competition is not fair.”
Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne Deacon Mike Leman also came forward with the same view on the bill. He said it was not about intentionally invalidating children’s experiences, but rather understanding what it’s like to watch daughters sacrifice time and energy to participate, and making sure they had a level playing field.
But the final student to come forward and speak against SF 51 said it wasn’t innocent legislation, and that it instead proved that LGBTQ individuals like herself were not welcome in Wyoming. She said there were consequences to this attitude and culture.
A recipient of the Hathaway Scholarship and a junior at the University of Wyoming, Riley Scores explained to legislators that the state had spent close to $165,000 on her K-12 education, based on data from multiple agencies. She said the unfortunate reality is that despite all of that money, and despite the fact she is fifth-generation Wyomingite on both sides of her family, she is leaving the state and will never return.
“Senate File 51 is bigger than fairness in sports,” she said. “I hope, when faced with the choice of voting for or against this bill, I hope that you look outside of the immediate, more obvious impacts that the bill implies.”
Senators on the Education Committee did not have the chance to vote on this bill, however, or the Civics Transparency Act. The two hours allotted before the morning floor session started were filled with public testimony on both sides of the argument. Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, cut off the public testimony of ACLU-Wyoming representative Sabrina King, who said federal Title IX funding might be at risk because it was meant to protect trans women, as well.
The bill will be considered again at the committee’s meeting on Wednesday morning, but Scott said he may not allow more public testimony at that time.
“I’m not going to tolerate a filibuster of the bill,” he said.
Jasmine Hall is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter @jasminerhphotos and on Instagram @jhrose25.