Metro Weekly

U.S. House Bans Trans Athletes from Women’s Sports

Bill defines sex as based on reproductive anatomy at birth, and threatens to block federal funding from schools allowing trans athletes to compete.

Photo Illustration by Todd Franson. Original image: Greg Steube – Photo: U.S. House of Representatives; U.S. House Chamber – Photo: Lawrence Jackson/The White House.

On Thursday, the Republican-led U.S, House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to prohibit transgender women and girls from competing in female-designated athletic activities.

The passage of the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act” on a party-line 219-203 vote marks the first time that Congress has voted on a standalone bill dealing with the transgender community.

It also signifies the GOP’s determination to continue pursuing a nationwide strategy targeting the transgender community, in the hope of exploiting voters’ discomfort with gender-nonconformity. Over the past three years, multiple Republican-led state legislatures have passed laws restricting transgender participation in sports, limiting access to gender-affirming care, or restricting the types of bathroom or changing room facilities that transgender people may use.

While the bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), has been introduced during previous congressional sessions, it failed to get a vote when the lower chamber was under Democratic control. Similarly, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate is unlikely to take up the measure. Additionally, should the bill manage to pass both chambers, President Biden has threatened to veto the measure.

The bill would amend Title IX — the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education — to define “sex” as “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Schools, leagues, or organizations that allow transgender women and girls to compete on female-designated sports teams can be threatened with the loss of federal financial assistance, reports The Hill

However, the bill does not prevent transgender women or girls from training or practicing with female sports teams, as long as the transgender individual’s presence doesn’t deny another athlete a spot on a team (which only applies in sports with roster cutoffs), scholarships, or the opportunity to compete for honors and awards or qualify for higher-level competitions.

“This is about protecting women’s sports now and into the future,” House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Thursday ahead of the vote. She described the bill as “a winning issue across America, standing up for the future of women and girls,” signaling the GOP’s likelihood of using transgender athletes as a “wedge issue” for future elections.

At least 21 states have enacted similar bans since 2020, with Republicans using the issue to attack Democrats for their party’s embrace of the LGBTQ community. 

Democrats have argued that the bill does nothing to make sports safer or support female athletes by ensuring they receive equal funding or opportunities to compete. While the bill makes no mention of how an athlete’s assigned sex at birth would be verified, opponents have also raised concerns that schools or school districts will require invasive physical exams.

“If a young girl — if your daughter — doesn’t look feminine enough, is she subject to an examination?” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the mother of a transgender daughter and a co-chair of the House Equality Caucus, asked during debate. 

Openly gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) pointed to a recent investigation launched by the Utah High School Activities Association into a cisgender female athlete after parents of the two athletes she defeated “by a wide margin” filed a complaint, calling her gender identity into question.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, which reported on the investigation, the Utah High School Activities Association launched the investigation, looking into the athlete’s school records and calling around to the schools she previously attended — without notifying her or her parents or obtaining their permission.

David Spatafore, a spokesperson for the UHSAA, said the organization will often get complaints “when an athlete doesn’t look feminine enough” or doesn’t conform to stereotypical physical characteristics or behaviors usually associated with femininity — making the complaint process potentially susceptible to abuse by jealous or petty competitors seeking to sideline more talented opponents.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration proposed changes to Title IX that would prohibit categorical bans on transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity. The proposal, which would have to undergo a period of public comment, would allow local school districts to enact policies limiting transgender participation based on individual criteria used to determine whether an transgender athlete enjoys a significant competitive physical advantage over cisgender athletes.

A separate proposal released by the Biden administration last year would amend the definition of sex discrimination in Title IX to prohibit instances of discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTQ groups condemned the proposed national ban on transgender athletes.

“Today’s vote on H.R. 734 is a malicious attack on transgender student athletes and sends a harmful message of exclusion and intolerance to all students,” Jennifer Levi, the senior director of transgender and queer rights at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement. “A majority of the House of Representatives voted to write discrimination into a law meant to ensure equal opportunity in education.

“Transgender students want to play sports for the same reasons all kids do — to compete, have fun, be part of a team and build confidence, leadership, and healthy self-esteem,” Levi added. “As the Department of Education’s pending rule makes clear, Title IX already includes what we need in law to ensure inclusion and fairness for all student athletes. H.R. 734 undermines that effort. We urge the Senate to stop this unnecessary and unprincipled measure in its tracks.”

“Rather than focus heir energy on doing literally anything to improve the lives of children, House Republicans have prioritized attacking transgender youth purely as a political ploy,” Kelley Robinson, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“They know this bill will not become law because President Biden has already signaled his intention to veto it, so this is purely a waste of time at the expense of an already marginalized population,” added Robinson. “All kids — including transgender, nonbinary and intersex kids — have the right to enjoy the benefits of camaraderie, teamwork, self-discipline and sportsmanship that come from playing school sports. Instead, anti-equality extremists just don’t want to let kids play. We know that attacking trans kids didn’t work in the 2022 election, and it won’t work in 2024 either.”

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