The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is set to vote as early as Tuesday on legislation banning transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports, which supporters say is necessary to protect athletic opportunities for young Commonwealth women.
A similar bill was withdrawn from the Senate Education Committee on Monday by a Party line vote 7-4. Neither can earn Governor Tom Wolf’s signature. He considers them discriminatory, saying they would deny opportunities to some children.
“Trans youth need to know that they belong, that they are valued, and that their participation in school activities is welcome,” a Wolf spokeswoman said.
The House and Senate bills are characterized as efforts to preserve Title IX, a law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded education programs, including athletics.
“It’s critical to protect the opportunities for our female athletes to compete on the sports field,” said Sen. Judy Ward of R-Blair County, who is the Senate bill’s sponsor along with Sen. Kristin Phillips -Hill, of R-York County, during the discussion of the bill by the Senate Committee on Education.
“Allowing biological men to compete in women’s sports threatens to undo the progress we’ve seen since Title IX was enacted,” Ward said.
But Sen. Lindsey Williams of D-Allegheny County listed a number of school counselors, social workers, psychologists and administrator organizations who oppose the bill. These groups argue that this will cause harm to students.
She read a letter sent by the groups that says there is no empirical evidence that cisgender women have been negatively affected by the inclusion of trans women on sports teams. It goes on to highlight the high rates of violence, depression, substance abuse and suicide among trans youth and ends with a plea not to further marginalize this group of people.
“I’m disappointed that we’re passing this bill,” Williams said. “This bill will do significant damage to the mental health of our transgender students.”
D-Chester County Sen. Tim Kearney agreed and called the bill heartbreaking for the harm it will do to transgender people.
However, R-Mercer County Sen. Michele Brooks criticized opponents of the bill for misrepresenting the legislation’s intent to make them transgender students. This is to protect the equality of women in athletics.
“Don’t hold us back because bands want to make it something it’s not,” Brooks said.
Many of the same points that aired during the Senate committee discussion were raised during the House Education Committee last week when it approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Barb Gleim , of the county of R-Cumberland.
The House on Monday rejected a Democratic amendment seeking to change the bill to say it would allow an individual to play on a team that matches their gender identity and would require schools and colleges to annually assess their compliance with the title IX.
Bills similar to those introduced in the General Assembly have been introduced in at least half of the states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The issue of transgender people’s participation in sports gained more attention this year after Lia Thomas, a member of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team, made history by becoming the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship.
Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.
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