Metro Weekly

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs transgender sports ban

Republicans claim barring trans females from women's sports is about "fairness" and is consistent with the original intent of Title IX.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has signed a bill barring transgender female athletes from competing on secondary and collegiate sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Under the bill, all athletics events must be designated as men’s, women’s, or coeducational sports, and athletes seeking to play female-designated sports are required to have female listed as the sex on their birth certificate.

There is no similar provision in place for male-designated sports — in part, because Title IX requires schools to allow cisgender females to compete on boys’ teams if there is no equivalent girls’ team or league, like with football or hockey. 

The Iowa law, however, would allow students — presumably cisgender females — to sue if they believe they have suffered “direct or indirect harm” from having competed against a trans female.

The Iowa attorney general’s office will represent schools and school employees in lawsuits, and the state will pay any legal costs.

The bill, which Reynolds signed into law on Thursday, takes effect immediately, making Iowa the eleventh state, and the second this calendar year, to restrict transgender athletes’ ability to compete. However, some critics warn the law may be challenged in court, as have bans passed by other states, including Florida and West Virginia.

Reynolds and Republicans who backed the bill cast argued it was intended to preserve “fairness” in women’s sports, so that cisgender females are not being forced to compete against transgender girls or women, most of whom have athletic advantages due to having undergone male puberty prior to transitioning.

But opponents of the law say it simply targets already-marginalized transgender youth for further discrimination.

“This cruel law violates the civil rights of transgender girls and women in our state. We should all agree that it’s important for our schools to value, support, and protect our kids and young people who are transgender,” Mark Stringer, the executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement. “But the sad reality is that enacting this law does the opposite.

“Our legislators and the governor heard from vulnerable Iowa kids and their families, and about how important participation in school sports is to them in living fully as themselves in all aspects of their lives,” added Stringer. “Elected officials have ignored their pleas and have instead passed a law that actively marginalizes and isolates these kids. They are scoring political points at the expense of transgender girls who just want to play team sports along with other girls.”

According to the Des Moines Register, a report from Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said the bill could potentially jeopardize federal funding if it is found to violate Title IX, the 1972 law that bans sex-based discrimination in schools and school-related activities. The report says it’s unlikely schools would actually lose federal funds due to precedent, although it remains unclear how or if the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights would seek to enforce the law.

Last year, the Department of Education released guidance saying that Title IX’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination applies to instances where someone is discriminated against because of their gender identity. But social and constitutional conservatives say that the term “sex” should be interpreted to only apply to one’s assigned gender at birth, and argue that bans prohibiting trans females from competing against cisgender females actually preserve the original intent of Title IX.

The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, lambasted Reynolds for signing the legislation into law.

“A blanket ban on transgender student-athletes is utterly unnecessary for Iowa youth, but it will have serious mental health impacts on the most marginalized among them,” Sam Ames, the director for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “Sidelining trans students will only contribute to social isolation and stigma that fuels bullying and mental health challenges for young trans people — issues they already face at alarmingly high rates.”

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