Mar 30, 2022 - Sports

Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers push bill targeting trans student athletes

Illustration of a soccer ball with the patches colored in light pink and blue, similar to the transgender flag.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A Republican-led proposal aiming to bar trans girls and women from participating in school sports that align with their gender identity is moving through Pennsylvania's House of Representatives.

Driving the news: The House Education Committee advanced the bill, dubbed the Fairness in Women's Sports Act, in a 15-9 vote Tuesday, state Rep. Barbara Gleim, one of the legislation's main sponsors, tells Axios.

Why it matters: 2021 saw a record number of anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures.

  • A number of states across the country, including Florida, West Virginia and Iowa, have recently passed legislation blocking transgender athletes from competing in school sports based on their gender identity.

Plus: Over two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth said recent debates over state laws that target transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health, according to a poll by the Trevor Project.

State of play: Under the proposal, school sports for women and girls would "not be open to students of the male sex," which is defined by "an individuals' reproductive organs, biology or genetics at birth."

  • The legislation would apply to K-12 and college sports, as well as intramural or club sports sponsored by a school.
  • The proposal also would allow students and schools to sue over the restrictions, including filing lawsuits against athletic associations.

What they're saying: Gleim, of Cumberland County, said she wants to "protect women's sports" because she believes trans women "have a competitive advantage" and that allowing them to compete takes away opportunities from cisgender women.

Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the education committee Tuesday that the proposal is discriminatory, negatively affects students' mental health and overall seeks to fix a problem that doesn't exist.

  • "Transgender people want to participate in athletics for the same reasons as their peers," she said. "Excluding them from sports sends them the message that they are not worthy of the same kinds of opportunities as their classmates."

Of note: Studies differ over whether trans women have an advantage in sports, Axios' Jeff Tracy reports.

Between the lines: Controversy has recently erupted in the state and across the country over 22-year-old trans swimmer Lia Thomas, who broke records competing for the University of Pennsylvania this year.

  • Thomas became the first trans athlete to capture an NCAA Division I title this month.
  • Her college swimming career ended following the NCAA championships, said Penn Athletics spokesperson Mike Mahoney.

What's next: Jason Gottesman, a state House GOP spokesperson, tells Axios that House Republicans will vet the proposal "to determine whether and/or when it will be considered on the floor."


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