The state organization charged with overseeing Georgia high school sports voted May 4 to ban transgender athletes by requiring athletes only be allowed to compete based on the gender marker on their birth certificate and not by gender identity.

The ruling angered and disappointed leading LGBTQ advocates, who say it was made hastily, was discriminatory and would only harm transgender students.

The Georgia High School Association’s executive committee voted to change a by-law to say athletes can only compete based on their gender assigned at birth, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The report initially said the vote was 62-0, but it was later learned there was one abstention.

“We’re approaching this as a competitive-balance issue,” GHSA executive director Robin Hines told the AJC a day before the vote. Hines submitted the proposal.

“We don’t want to discriminate against anybody, but that includes biological girls. There are competitive imbalances generally between biological females and biological males,” Hines said.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group, denounced GHSA’s vote and said “the secretive and hasty process by which this was done is despicable.”

“All Georgia students should have equal access to school sports, and efforts to change policies that facilitate that should be done in a transparent and open way,” Graham said in a written statement. “[The] actions of the GHSA Executive Committee will do real harm to trans kids in Georgia that just want to be themselves and fit in.”

Georgia Equality Gender Policy Manager Chanel Haley called the vote “discriminatory and divisive.”

“Unfortunately the GHSA has decided to ignore case precedent by favoring certain students and parents over others,” she said in a written statement. “Now because our state policymakers have failed all students, we need to look to our federal policymakers to intervene in securing protections and inclusion for all student athletes.”

The GHSA defined gender for sports participation as what they were assigned at birth until 2016. The organization changed its policy that year to allow individual schools and school board define gender. The change followed national backlash to North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill that banned transgender people from using public restrooms based on gender identity.

“The GHSA will honor a gender determination made by a member school. The GHSA will not make gender identity determinations nor entertain appeals of the member school’s determination,” the policy was changed to say in 2016.

The executive committee’s May 4 vote changes the policy to now define gender as, “A student’s sex is determined by the sex noted on his/her certificate at birth.”

Gov. Brian Kemp praised the GHSA vote on social media. Kemp successfully pushed a bill through the legislature this year to ban transgender athletes from high school sports.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.