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Wheeling Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum: Transgender Athlete Bill Sends ‘Unhealthy’ Message About West Virginia

File Photo Wheeling Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum speaks during a city council meeting. During an interview Friday on MSNBC, she criticized Gov. Jim Justice for signing a bill that would bar transgender students from participating in certain school athletics.

WHEELING — City Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum on Friday again provided her voice to topics dominating national news, this time responding to Gov. Jim Justice signing a bill prohibiting transgender female athletes in the state from competing in girls sports in public high schools or women’s sports at state colleges and universities.

Ketchum was interviewed Friday on “MSNBC Reports,” offering a reaction to an interview Justice had earlier that day with anchor Stephanie Ruhle.

In that interview, Ruhle grilled Justice about his support of the measure, HB 3293, which he signed into law this week.

Ruhle challenged Justice to give an example one transgender child in West Virginia seeking a competitive advantage in athletics, which he could not. She then showed a list with West Virginia ranks at or near the bottom among U.S. states in education, health care, economy and infrastructure.

“Interestingly enough, it didn’t seem like he had a strong stance,” Ketchum told the Sunday News-Register on Friday following her MSNBC interview. “He said it wasn’t a priority to him, but still, he signed a bill that so clearly states that West Virginia is not a place where trans athletes are welcome.

“It just sends a message that is totally unhealthy and perpetuates people’s negative perceptions about West Virginia.”

Ketchum catapulted into the national spotlight last year when she became the first openly transgender person to be elected to public office in the conservative state of West Virginia. Ketchum said West Virginia is a great state that is progressive and has been moving forward in many areas, but legislation like the transgender student-athlete bill does nothing but tarnish the Mountain State’s image.

“New census data coming out shows a population decline in the state,” Ketchum noted, indicating that the last thing West Virginia needs is for the governor and state legislature to project an image that the state is unwelcoming.

Ketchum said she believes the anti-trans athlete legislation should be and will be challenged.

“When the governor passes this broad bill based on assumptions, and can’t name a trans athlete in the state, for me, what it’s saying is this is really such a non-problem,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are so many other things we should be talking about.”

While Ketchum has remained focused on representing her constituents in Ward 3 and working with Wheeling City Council on efforts to improve the city, she acknowledged that she has become the “default trans West Virginian” and a national voice on related topics.

The issue of transgender athletes is one that has been surfacing in statehouses across the nation. Florida this week just passed a similar bill issuing a ban in girls and women’s sports there.

Ketchum said people in communities and states across the country that are facing this issue need to stop making assumptions and have a conversation with people who are truly involved in these situations.

“I think we need to talk to the people who are impacted,” she said. “Let’s talk to trans athletes and their peers. Rarely is it the peer athletes who are making these assumptions — it’s typically parents, politicians or other adults who are caught up in this baseless fear of something.”

Beyond the legal and constitutional questions that surround the debate over this issue, Ketchum said she is not an expert in biology or sports medicine. However, she said legislators should consider the positions taken by entities such as the National Olympic Committee and the NCAA, which she stressed show no data that suggest that biological girls have a competitive disadvantage against transgender athletes.

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