Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed legislation seeking to bar transgender athletes from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.
The bill, which sailed through the Republican-led legislature on largely party-line votes, would have required public K-12 schools and colleges to designate sports as male, female, or coed. For female-designated sports, athletes would only be allowed to participate if they were assigned female at birth.
The bill is silent on male-designated sports, presumably allowing transgender males and cisgender females to participate on boys’ teams, such as football, in cases where there is not a team specifically designated for girls. Heretofore, such allowances were considered in compliance with Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational settings.
The bill would have prohibited any governmental agency or athletic association from taking adverse actions against schools enforcing sex-specific restrictions and would have allowed students who believe they’ve been deprived of athletic opportunities due to competing against transgender athletes to sue schools and school districts for damages.
Similar bans on transgender athletes have passed in other states with Republican-run legislatures, with at least 19 states explicitly barring transgender girls and women from competing in female-designated sports.
Proponents of the bill argued that segregating sports based on assigned sex at birth is necessary to level the playing field for cisgender women, who are at a physical disadvantage when competing against transgender athletes, according to The Associated Press.
But opponents said there have not been enough instances of transgender athletes in Pennsylvania performing at a level where their participation would threaten the performances of cisgender females.
They also noted that any ban preventing trans youth from competing on teams based on their gender identity would have harmful consequences, causing many trans youth to withdraw from athletics altogether, potentially increasing their feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation.
Wolf, a Democrat, had previously threatened to veto the bill if it reached his desk.
“I have been crystal clear during my time in office that hate has no place in Pennsylvania, especially discrimination against already marginalized youth representing less than half of 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s population,” Wolf said in a statement. “The fact that this bill passed through Pennsylvania’s Republican-led General Assembly solely to bully and oppress vulnerable children is atrocious. These members should be ashamed of themselves for proposing and voting on policies that are discriminatory, unnecessary, and incredibly harmful.”
Wolf cited a survey conducted earlier this year by The Trevor Project showing that political attacks targeting transgender and nonbinary youth can negatively impact those youths’ mental well-being.
According to The Trevor Project, nearly 1 in 5 trans or nonbinary youth reported attempting suicide in the past year. However, LGBTQ youth who found their school to be affirming of their sexual orientation or gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide, as well as lower rates of suicidal ideation.
“My administration is committed to supporting transgender individuals and ensuring Pennsylvania is an inclusive place for everyone,” Wolf said. “To the LGBTQ+ community in Pennsylvania and especially to our transgender and nonbinary youth and young people: I see you, I support you, I respect you, and I stand with you.”
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