Supporters of girls-only sports teams are guilty of “violence” and continuing the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials, state Senate Democrats argued Friday. But their heated rhetoric couldn’t stop the GOP-backed Protection of Women’s Sports Act from passing in a 14-10 party-line vote.

SB 375 would prevent biological males from competing on all-girls sports teams in 6th through 12th grades, as well as in the state’s college and university system. The law would not apply to non-public schools at any level. Coed teams would be open to any student.

Republicans argued the measure is needed to protect female athletes from losing opportunities to participate that would be taken by males. They also highlighted recent incidents across New England when female athletes were injured while competing against males, including an incident reported by NHJournal of a “bearded Massachusetts ‘trans’ high school athlete who injured multiple girls.”

“We want to protect the safety and opportunities of female athletes. That is what this bill does,” said lead sponsor Sen. Kevin Avard (R- Nashua) after the vote. “In New Hampshire and across the nation, a growing number of biological males are joining middle and high school girls and college women’s sports teams. This defeats the purpose of Title IX.”

Senate Democrats adamantly disagreed, arguing the phrase “biological sex” is bigoted at best and potentially a form of hate speech that could inspire violence.

Complaining of New Hampshire’s “two genders” power structure, Sen. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) said describing biological males identifying as female “as not real girls…that’s violence.

“Denying a person’s existence, restricting their access to things because you don’t understand gender identity is violence,” Altschiller added.

As for the argument that male players present a physical danger to female players, Sen. Becky Whitley (D-Hopkinton) said that if student safety is the real goal and not a “divisive culture war issue,” New Hampshire should consider banning middle and high school students from participating in tackle football.

Whitley has launched an exploratory committee for a Second Congressional District primary campaign.

Perhaps the most eclectic complaint came from State Sen. David Watters (D-Dover), who compared the ban on male athletes in female sports to the Salem Witch Trials. How would the actual sex of the players be determined, he asked? Perhaps the same way signs of witchcraft were sought in the 1600s.

“The proof was to be found in their genitals — witch’s teats that nurse the devil,” Watters said from the Senate floor. “Examined in jail or after their bodies were cut down from the gallows, the court sent women to examine the genitals to see if there were teats or male-like appendages.”

Sen. Daryl Abbas (R-Salem) noted that all that is required is a birth certificate, which is already required paperwork in the public school system.

Altschiller referenced the case of Lia Thomas, a biological male infamous for competing in an Ivy League collegiate swimming event.

“Lia Thomas is on the tip of transphobic tongues because she tied for fifth place with a cisgender girl from the University of Kentucky,” Altschiller said, referencing athlete-turned-activist Riley Gaines. “Lia never broke any record held by cisgender women’s champions. The girl she tied for 5th with has subsequently made a career out of her transphobia.”

In fact, Thomas finished first in the women’s 500 freestyle, becoming the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, though Thomas did finish fifth in the 200 freestyle.

During three years competing on the University of Pennsylvania men’s swimming team, Thomas was ranked just 462. After joining the women’s team, Thomas’s ranking shot up to number one.

Abbas argued Thomas’ example made the bill’s supporters’ case for them: It’s not just about winning; it’s about denying female athletes the opportunity to compete.

“Every time a biological male takes a spot on a women’s sports team, that’s a loss for women,” Abbas said.

Sen. Ruth Ward (R- Stoddard) echoed that argument.

“Women have fought hard to have their own teams, compete for scholarships, have their own competition for women only, and now they are at risk of losing that because of a stronger trans woman winning the competition,” she said.

And Bradley bristled at the Democrats’ repeated accusation that supporters of women’s-only sports are “transphobic.”

“I’m sorry, but we should not be celebrating a bearded Massachusetts trans high school athlete who injured three girls,” Bradley said. “That’s not a celebration, that’s a fact, that’s reality, and we need to deal with reality. So please don’t accuse any of us who are standing up for our daughters or our granddaughters of being transphobic.”

Following the 14-10 vote on the legislation itself, Whitley posted a statement on social media.

“(New Hampshire Senate Democrats) stood shoulder to shoulder with LGBTQ+ community members, especially students, against Republican attacks on our most vulnerable children,” Whitley wrote. “We will never stop fighting for a New Hampshire where ALL Granite Staters can thrive!”

Avard, however, noted after the vote that New Hampshire was far from alone in acting on behalf of female athletes.

“There is a growing consensus to protect women’s sports. Twenty-five states already limit the ability of athletes born male to compete in women’s sports… Sports federations across the country are instituting policies to ensure fairness and safety in women’s sports. New Hampshire should do the same.”