A group of Republican senators have introduced a bill that would bar transgender females from competing in women’s sports, nationalizing an issue that has, until now, largely been left to state legislatures to resolve.
The proposed “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), would threaten schools with the loss of federal funding if they allow transgender females to compete against cisgender females.
The Education Department is currently threatening to strip close to $18 million earmarked for desegregating schools to three Connecticut school districts because of their refusal to cut ties with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which allows transgender females to compete according to their gender identity.
The bill would amend Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, a law that prohibits sex discrimination and has been credited with expanding athletic opportunities for women, to define the term “sex” as solely referring to “a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Conservatives have said that allowing transgender participation undermines the law’s intent.
“Title IX established a fair and equal chance for women and girls to compete, and sports should be no exception,” Loeffler said in a statement. “As someone who learned invaluable life lessons and built confidence playing sports throughout my life, I’m proud to lead this legislation to ensure girls of all ages can enjoy those same opportunities. This commonsense bill protects women and girls by safeguarding fairness and leveling the athletic field that Title IX guarantees.”
It is unclear what would happen with intersex students under the bill, as genetic testing and biological attributes would not be insufficient at clarifying whether an intersex person is solely “male” or “female.”
The bill is cosponsored by four other Republican senators: Mike Lee (Utah), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), James Lankford (Okla.), and Tom Cotton (Ark.).
“Men and women are biologically different, that’s just a scientific fact,” Lee said in a statement. “For the safety of female athletes and for the integrity of women’s sports, we must honor those differences on a fair field of competition.”
“Permitting biological males to participate in women’s sports rejects the very spirit of Title IX, which was intended to create an equal playing field for women and girls,” Lankford said in a statement. “This bill upholds and reiterates congressional intent and promotes actual equality for women and girls in sports by respecting the dignity of biological female athletes across the nation.”
The participation of transgender athletes in single-sex sports has become a new hot-button issue that is increasingly being embraced by conservatives in lieu of other LGBTQ issues.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing legal firm with a history of opposing LGBTQ rights, is currently waging a lawsuit on behalf of three cisgender female athletes against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and multiple school boards in the state over their adherence to CIAC’s trans-inclusive policy.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that being forced to compete against transgender females puts them at an unfair disadvantage and robs them of the chance to earn medals, titles, chances to compete at regional and national competitions, and potentially even college scholarships. But the CIAC argues that the policy is consistent with Connecticut’s civil rights law prohibiting anti-trans discrimination.
Loeffler’s bill has been lauded by social conservatives, including Terry Schilling, the director of the American Principles Project, which has been running several ads attacking Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) for supporting the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas.
One of the ads, featuring a male athlete beating female runners in a footrace, claims that the Equality Act would “destroy girls’ sports.” The ad echoes the themes of similar ads that were aired in Virginia and Kentucky in 2019 in the hope of influencing the outcome of state legislative races and Kentucky’s gubernatorial race.
The ad was rejected as paid advertising on Facebook, which warned the APP that the video would have a “fact-check” label applied to it if it was posted organically on social platform.
The APP’s ads have been condemned by LGBTQ organizations, and PolitiFact criticized the ad as “missing context” that “could mislead people” about the Equality Act.
“Women’s sports are under severe threat in 2020. Despite the radical Left’s attempts at gaslighting, this is indisputable,” Schilling told NBC News. “While President Trump and his administration have taken important steps to defend women’s sports, female athletes have also been searching for a leader in Congress to stand up for them. Today, Sen. Kelly Loeffler has courageously stepped forward to be that leader.”
Dawn Ennis, a transgender woman and managing editor of the LGBTQ sports website OutSports, told NBC News she believes Loeffler, an appointed senator running for the remainder of ex-Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term in November, is simply pandering to Republican base voters during an election year, referring to the bill as “chum being thrown at the sharks.”
Ennis claimed she has asked the ADF why their lawsuit only focuses on barring transgender females from women’s sports, but not transgender males from men’s sports.
“They told me they didn’t have a problem with ‘girls who identify as male,'” Ennis claimed. “They saw this specifically as a danger of endangering [cisgender] girls.”
Chase Strangio, a transgender rights advocate and staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project who has intervened in the ADF lawsuit on behalf of two transgender athletes, has been critical of organizations and lawmakers who seek to bar transgender athletes from participating in sports, pointing to an ongoing fight over an Idaho law that would require genetic testing to “prove” an athlete’s gender matches their assigned sex at birth.
“These groups don’t care about sports or women’s rights,” Strangio said in a statement. “They’re opportunistically looking for ways to attack trans people, and in the process, hurting all women and girls.”
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