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PA is trying to stop trans women athletes from participating in women's sports. Photo: Andre Frueh/Unsplash

Anti-trans legislation hits PA, as House passes bill attacking transgender women athletes

The bill, which Governor Tom Wolf has said he will veto, would require all sports teams sponsored by public entities to be male, female or coed.

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On Tuesday, April 12, a bill to ban transgender girls and women athletes from competing on sports teams that align with their gender passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The legislation passed on a 115-84 bipartisan vote, and now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

However, Gov. Tom Wolf has made it clear that he will veto the bill. 

“As states across the country push transphobic legislation, some Republicans in the General Assembly are wasting time attempting the same in Pennsylvania. It won’t get past my desk.” Wolf wrote on Twitter. 

Despite the veto threat, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barb Gleim, insists that her bill “levels the playing field” for cisgender women athletes.

“Allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports reverses nearly 50 years of hard-earned advances for women and destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities,” Gleim said.

House Bill 972, otherwise known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, states that all sports teams sponsored by public entities, and some private institutions, must be designated as female, male or coed and that teams designed for women or girls “may not be open to students of the male sex.”

The bill defines “sex” as the “the biological distinction between male and female based on reproductive biology and genetic make-up.” 

Sex is a category that broadly refers to an individual’s physiology, and gender refers to an innate sense of identity.

For most of history, the terms sex and gender have been used interchangeably, but in the past decade, scientists are now presenting a new story: that gender goes “beyond biology,” and that sex is not as binary as previously thought.

“People who are ‘intersex’ are born with a mix of female and male anatomy, internally and externally. Sometimes they have an unusual chromosome combination, such as men who harbor an extra X or women who physically appear female but carry a Y chromosome,” pediatrician Dr. Jason Rafferty told CBS News in 2018.

Due to this, many critics argue that the language of “biological sex” is overly simplistic and misleading.

This heated debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, especially girls and women, has become a major focal point in politics, particularly among conservatives. The PA bill is the latest legislation that targets trans athletes being pushed at the state level. 

Conservatives insist again and again that trans women and girls have innate physical advantages over cisgender women and girls, but according to a 2017 report published by the National Library of Medicine, “no direct or consistent research” has been documented on any such advantage. 

“Currently, there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition  and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people need to be considered and potentially revised,” the report read. 

The bill comes after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first trans athlete to win an NCAA Division 1 title after finishing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event in March. 

Thomas, who previously competed in the men’s team at Penn, has inadvertently become the face of the debate about transgendeer women’s participation in sports. 

The NCAA itself stands against these types of bans. Last April, the organization said it closely monitors these bans to ensure that NCAA championships are held in ways that are “welcoming and respectful of all participants.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union of PA has also denounced the bill following the House vote. 

“Rather than addressing real challenges facing student athletes, such as a lack of equal resources for girls’ sports, HB 972 instead opts for a “solution” in search of a problem,” ACLU of PA wrote in a statement on its website. 

Multiple Pennsylvania Democrats spoke out against the bill prior to the vote on Tuesday, including Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, Anita Kulik and Emily Kinkead. 

Kinkead, of Allegheny County, spoke about how her participation in cross-country during high school and the support from her coach helped her process childhood abuse. 

“This is an issue that our trans youth deal with all the time, to not be supported, to be afraid to tell people their truth, to have the adults in their lives be the ones that are attacking them,” Kinkead said. 

Kenyatta, one of only three openly LGBTQ members of the House, emphasized that no one else in the chamber understands how terrifying it is for youth to come out as LGBTQ in their families, schools and communities. 

He also referred to HB 972 as a “pro-death” bill, citing the high rates of suicidal ideation and attempts among transgender youth. 

“[HB 972] is an attempt to even further isolate trans youth in Pennsylvania – a group that already faces disproportionate risk of bullying and suicide,” Sam Ames, Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement. 

 

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