Senator Holly Thompson Rehder's Legislative Column for March 24, 2023

Friday, March 24, 2023

Protecting Women’s Sports

In a previous column, I discussed the challenge of passing contentious legislation without resorting to heavy-handed parliamentary procedures. Specifically, I wrote about the difficulty the Senate faced advancing legislation to address transgender student athletes and prohibit life-altering gender transition procedures for children. I am pleased to report we passed both measures this week, and neither bill required a rarely used motion to force a vote. We had a 14-hour-long filibuster to get it done, but the Senate passed my Senate Bill 39, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” and Senate Bill 49, the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.”

The Missouri Senate first began discussing legislation to protect female athletes from unfair competition during last years’ session. The concern is that transgender female athletes – those born male but who later identify as female – would retain a natural advantage if allowed to compete against biological females. The fact is biological males are bigger. They’re stronger. And they’re faster. The majority of women simply cannot compete. We’ve seen this in collegiate sports. Transgender females who barely ranked when they previously competed as males, suddenly dominate their sports once they begin competing against women.

In 1972, the U.S. Congress passed Title IX, legislation that prohibited discrimination in educational programs on the basis of sex. This legislation created tremendous opportunities for women and girls, both in academics and athletics. Aside from the personal growth that comes from sports, separate athletic divisions for females brought scholarships and allowed women to attend colleges they never could have afforded otherwise. I believe allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports threatens many of the gains brought about by Title IX.

Senate Bill 39 states a student athlete may only compete in sports intended for the gender listed on their birth certificate. A biological female would be allowed to compete in male sports if no program for women is available, but transgender females won’t be allowed to participate in sports designated for women. Schools that violate the law could lose state funding. The bill, which was co-sponsored by 12 of my Senate colleagues, applies to all schools in Missouri – K-12 and post-secondary, public, charter or private.

The same day the Senate passed SB 39, we also passed the SAFE Act. This bill prohibits the use of puberty blockers, hormones or surgeries to treat children diagnosed with gender dysphoria. During committee hearings on this bill we heard from witnesses who began gender transition as a child, but later regretted their decision. Unfortunately, it was too late for these witnesses. The damage had already been done. Senate Bill 49 sets guardrails around children so that irreversible gender-related procedures will have to wait until the child is old enough to make an informed decision.

I’m glad the Senate was able to pass these two bills. It’s now up to the House of Representatives to carry the bills to the governor’s desk. My hope is that they’ll accept the Senate versions without changes. If they alter either bill in any way, we’ll be back on the floor and likely facing another filibuster.

In other legislative news, my Senate Bill 40 also passed out of the upper chamber and has been sent to the House for its consideration. This legislation would require a criminal background check on any adult who attends career and technical classes alongside traditional high school students. I’m absolutely for adults going back to school to develop skills that will help them get a better job, or professional training they’ve always been interested in, but I don’t want to put children at risk. I also believe in giving people a second chance. This legislation addresses all of those needs. Adults with a criminal record can still attend class, but they should do it in the evening or some other time when regular students aren’t present. Requiring a background check will allow us to know which adult students should be allowed to attend classes during normal school hours and which should be directed to separate classes. We require background checks on school employees and volunteers. Adult students should be no different.

Contact Me

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to or visit