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Justice grilled over signing ban on transgender student athletes

Gov. Jim Justice is grilled by MSNBC host Stephanie Rhule on Friday morning for signing a bill preventing transgender students from playing girls sports. (Screengrab)

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice is used to getting positive national media for his COVID-19 vaccine rollout and his personal income tax plan, but a cable news interview Friday took a different turn thanks to his signing of a bill to prevent transgender girls and women from playing in public school and college sports.

Justice was asked about his appearance Friday morning on “Stephanie Rhule Reports” on MSNBC during his end-of-the-week COVID-19 briefing. Ruhle asked Justice about his signing of House Bill 3293 on Wednesday relating to single-sex participation in interscholastic athletic events.

“The law you just signed banning transgender female athletes from playing in women’s school sports teams, can you name one example of a transgender child trying to get an unfair competitive advantage at a school there in West Virginia,” Rhule asked Justice. “You signed a bill about it.”

“I can’t really tell you one … I can tell you we all know what an absolute advantage boys would have playing against girls,” Justice said.

“But sir, you have no examples of this happening,” Rhule responded. “Why would you take your time to do this?”

Rhule cited U.S. News and World Report that ranked West Virginia 45th for education, 47th for healthcare, 48th for economy and 50th for infrastructure.

“If you cannot name one specific example to me of a child doing this, why would you make this a priority. I just named four things that would seem to me like a much bigger priority,” Rhule said. “Come back when you can show me evidence.”

HB 3293 requires student-athletes in middle school, high school or college to participate in sports that match their biological sex at the time of their birth. The bill would apply to sports regulated by the NCAA and other college interscholastic organizations.

The bill requires the state Board of Education, the West Virginia Schools Secondary Activities Commission and the Higher Education Policy Commission/West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education to create rules to implement HB 3293.

Both during his interview with Rhule and when asked about the interview during his Friday COVID-19 briefing, Justice took no responsibility for signing the bill, blaming the West Virginia Legislature for sending him the bill in the first place. HB 3293 passed the House 78-20 and the state Senate 18-15.

Justice had stated several times since the end of the legislative session he would either sign the bill or let it become law without his signature.

“First of all, you ought to ask the Legislature. Really and truly, I signed hundreds of bills,” Justice said. “I’m all for equality and embracing and loving everyone. I am 100 percent behind that. But in being a coach, I know that … to say that a boy could participate in a girl’s sport through all that may happen, it seems like it disadvantages the girls.”

Justice received praise from the West Virginia Republican Party for signing HB 3293, encouraging supporters in an email sent Thursday to sign a digital card thanking Justice for supporting the bill, calling it the “Save Girls Sports Act.”

“While Governors in other states caved to the liberal special interests and media pressure, Jim Justice stood strong for our values and our Party’s platform,” said Dr. Mark Harris, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party. “He, and the brave Republican legislators who passed the Save Girls Sports Act, really were under an intense lobbying campaign to go the other way. The NCAA even threatened to take away tournaments from any states who pass similar legislation.”

Groups opposed to HB 3293, such as LGBTQ advocacy organization Fairness West Virginia, are reviewing the possibility of filing suit to block implementation of the bill. Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider said the bill is a violation of federal non-discrimination laws. Lawmakers heard no testimony from transgender children and young adults during committee meetings on the bill.

“It’s unfortunate that Gov. Jim Justice chose to sign House Bill 3293, ensuring the state of West Virginia will have to pay untold legal fees defending a clearly unconstitutional bill,” Schneider said in a statement Wednesday. “Transgender children are worthy of love and support. They deserve the chance to learn and grow in the classroom and on the field … Nothing Gov. Justice does can change the fact that trans girls are girls, and they’re worth fighting for.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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