Borowicz, others seek to ban transgender girls from sports
Some Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers are seeking to ban transgender high school athletes from participating in gender-specific sports teams.
Lawmakers on Monday formally introduced the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, House Bill 972.
A cadre of Republican state lawmakers — all of them women — introduced the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which would specifically bar transgender girls and women from competing in all-girls high school or collegiate sports teams.
The prime sponsors of the bill — Representatives Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland), Martina White (R-Philadelphia), Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), Dawn Keefer (R-York) and Stephanie Borowicz (R- Clinton/Centre), say the proposed measure would protect gender equality in sports and ensure a level playing field for girls and women. Some Democratic lawmakers say the measure is damaging and promotes discrimination.
In a press conference at the Capitol, Gleim, joined by the other sponsors of the bill, said the proposed measure is a response to the Biden administration’s executive order requiring that transgender school athletes be permitted to compete on teams that align with their gender identity.
Gleim said the Biden order violates Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in schools based on gender.
“There’s never a bad time to protect the opportunity for girls and women who deserve to compete on a level playing field,” Gleim said. “In complete contrast, allowing biological males to compete in girls and women sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities.”
President Joe Biden issued the executive order on his first day in office, reinvigorating what has in recent years become a hotly debated issue at states levels.
Rep. Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny) is co-sponsor of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act
A former Division 3 lacrosse player, Rep. Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), said the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act would ensure a level playing field for female athletes.
A growing number of states have introduced or passed legislation addressing the issue of transgender school athletes, with 42 bills introduced in 26 states. The pushback has been led by Republicans, who widely argue that transgender girls have physical advantages over teammates and opponents.
Several states have already rolled out total bans on transgender athletes, including Mississippi, which earlier this month banned transgender girls from all-girls sports teams. South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem last week signed executive orders banning transgender girls and women from competing on women’s sports.
Lyndsay Kensinger, press secretary to Gov. Tom Wolf, on Monday said the governor would veto such a measure.
“The governor has been clear – hate has no place in Pennsylvania, and that includes discrimination,” she said. “Any legislation designed to deny opportunities to certain children is both disturbing and dangerous. Trans youth should know that they belong, that they are valued, and that their participation in school activities is welcomed.”
The National Organization for Women supports the Biden order.
Members of the legislative LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus excoriated the GOP lawmakers for further fueling a culture war.
“It’s really disappointing and troubling that women in the majority party of the State House of Representatives would take the time and energy to prioritize and amplify legislation that doesn’t actually address any real problem,” said Sen. Katie Muth, D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery. “Unfortunately, there’s a nationwide effort driven by political organizations to use this waste of time and resources to fundraise and spread their harmful agenda.”
Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Pittsburgh, who is the first out LGBTQ+ woman in the General Assembly, derided the bill on several fronts.
“As a former women’s swim team member in high school, I care about protecting women’s sports and know that transgender girls in no way threaten them,” she said. “This bill is a complete invasion of young people’s privacy in response to a non-existent issue. It’s also likely an unconstitutional violation of transgender people’s rights.”
Muth called on the Legislature to support legislation that has “substance and positive impact.”
“The real unfairness in women’s and girls’ sports is rooted in systemic underfunding, fewer resources, unequal pay, unbalanced media coverage and sexual harassment,” Muth said. “‘Funny’ how those initiatives are not included in any capacity in their sham bill.”
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress, an advocacy group for transgender youth, derides the proposed measure as dangerous use of state power to perpetuate unfounded gender stereotypes and to subject girls to invasive monitoring.
“Trans youth deserve inclusion and respect,” said Preston Heldibridle, a state policy director for the Pennsylvania Youth Congress. “Enough with taking cheap political points at the expense of the very lives of trans youth. We are your children, students, and community members, not the boogeyman. Talk with us. Please take the time to learn about why this exclusionary bill is so hurtful and damaging — and far removed from the reality of school athletics in Pennsylvania.”
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association in 2014 unanimously passed a policy allowing for mixed gender participation. The narrowly written policy, however, allows boys to play girls sports and boys to participate in girls sports teams under specific circumstances.
For instance, under the policy a boy can’t play on a girls team if a school has the same sport for both boys and girls. If a school does not have a boys team in a particular sport, a boy can play on the girls team, but only if the school principal determines, among other criteria, that the boy would not have a significant competitive advantage.
Gaydos, an Allegheny County Republican and former Division III lacrosse player, shared her personal story and stressed that the ability for girls and women to play competitive sports in an all-girls environment builds confidence and sets athletes up for future success.
“For those who played competitive sports it was the intellectual as well as the physical training and practice that they needed,” she said. “The challenge women face becomes the motivation to work harder and stay focused under pressure playing that competitive sport.”
Keefer spoke of the life lessons her daughter has gotten from sports.
“But now we are changing the course and setting our female athletes up for failure and disappointment by forcing biological girls to compete against biological boys who are physically and biologically stronger and faster,” she said. “It’s an affront to the gains we have gained through Title IX. Now no matter how hard my daughter trains, there is nothing she can do to overcome the biological advantages of men.”
Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, urged all members of the General Assembly to reject the proposed measure and work to increase funding, opportunity and inclusion.
“In the 1990s it was about banning gay gym teachers, and in the 2020s it’s about banning trans students from athletic opportunities,” he said. “This kind of discrimination should have no place in public schools. We want more students to play coming out of the pandemic, not less.”
The Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative advocacy group, swiftly supported the measure.
“Girls competing in athletics across Pennsylvania need this legislation because they deserve a level playing field,” said policy director Alexis Stefani. “A male’s belief about his gender doesn’t erase his physical advantages over female athletes.”