House Republicans passed a bill Thursday that would amend a landmark federal civil rights law to bar transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports.
No Democrats joined with Republicans in support of the legislation, which is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The two-page bill proposed by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) would change Title IX’s definition of sex to one based solely on a person’s genetics at birth. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex and opened the door to, among other things, expanded opportunities for girls and women in sports.
Under Steube’s bill, recipients of federal funding who host, operate or facilitate women’s athletic programs and violate the new amendment by allowing transgender athletes to play on a girls’ or women’s team could risk losing that funding.
In addition to the House Republican proposal, scores of other bills are being introduced at the state and local level that target LGBTQ rights. The most frequently passed measures target participation of trans girls and women in sports: 21 states have approved variations of that legislation over the last few years.
As legislative activity around the issue increases, data shows very few student-athletes are transgender. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, which queried teens in 10 states and nine large urban districts, found that nearly 2 percent of high school students identify as transgender. Meanwhile, a Post analysis of CDC surveys from six states and six urban districts found that 43 percent of transgender students said they played sports — suggesting that about 1 percent of athletes in these jurisdictions are transgender.
Yet Republicans have found success in championing the issue as part of their ideology in part because a majority of Americans agree that transgender women should not be able to compete in women’s professional, college and high school sports. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll last year found that 3 in 10 Americans believed transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete in high school, college or professional women’s sports, while between 55 percent and 58 percent were opposed. A smaller 49 percent opposed inclusion in youth sports.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration took something of a middle ground on the matter as the Education Department proposed a regulation detailing how it will apply Title IX protections to the question of sports. The Biden administration has already said that Title IX’s protections bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity, as well as sexual orientation. It based its analysis on a 2020 Supreme Court decision that held that a companion civil rights law’s provision barring discrimination “because of sex” includes protections for transgender and gay employees.
Under the new Biden proposal, blanket bans such as those approved across the country would be barred. But schools could exclude trans girls and women if they justify those decisions based on educational grounds, such as the need for fairness or prevention of injury. Schools would have to, for instance, consider how competitive the sport is and the age of the students involved.
During the floor debate Thursday, Republicans adopted an amendment from Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.) that would protect public schools that follow the bill’s instruction from possible lawsuits “accusing them of discrimination” or harassment. An amendment from Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) that would study the adverse effects of allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports and the psychological effects on cisgender women and girls also was adopted. That study would then be delivered to Congress.
“As a woman who is pro-LGBTQ, I don’t care how you dress, I don’t care what pronoun you take, I don’t care if you change your gender, but we ought to protect biological women and girls in their athletics,” she said.
When Mace said that Republican support for women’s equality in sports has made them the “feminists of today,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said nothing is “farther from the truth.”
“I know the gentlewoman to be open minded about LG and B people,” said Takano, who is gay, referring to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. “But again, my friends across the aisle are conflating and confusing the issue here.”
“This amendment perpetuates false arguments that allowing transgender girls to participate in school sports teams will undermine the well being of cisgender girls.”
The House proposal would not bar transgender women and girls entirely from participating in women’s sports. It allows transgender women and men to train in or practice with a women’s athletic program, “so long as no female is deprived of a roster spot on a team or sport, opportunity to participate in a practice or competition, scholarship, admission to an educational institution, or any other benefit that accompanies participating in the athletic program or activity.’’
In introducing the bill, Steube and other Republicans pointed to female athletes in their districts who have lost to transgender women. Emma Weyant, a University of Virginia swimmer from Steube’s district, took second place in the 500-yard freestyle race at the NCAA championships behind Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania.
Beginning his floor speech Wednesday by quoting from the Bible, Steube also said that “for thousands of years in human history” two genders existed, but now “a perversion in our culture by the enemy and the left has completely embraced the lie to erase the lines of gender and to convince you there isn’t really gender.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is Catholic, rebutted him. “Recognizing that we are all God’s children, I rise in opposition to this legislation,” she said, “because trans kids are all God’s children, [and they] belong in sports, in books, in families and on teams.”
Republicans claimed that their proposal would be part of women’s ongoing fight for equality, attacking Democrats for injecting left-wing or “woke” ideology into the debate.
“Ask working-class Americans if Muhammad Ali should’ve been able to box women in his day, or if Usain Bolt should’ve run the women’s 100 meters,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “The left wants to talk about erasure. Well, let’s talk about how American female athletes are being erased.”
Democrats sharply questioned Republicans about how they would implement this bill if it became law. Several states’ school boards have complained that to comply with such a law, they would have to inspect genitalia to prove gender.
“Think about it. How do you enforce this ban? How do you verify a woman’s ‘reproductive anatomy’? If a young girl, if your daughter, doesn’t look feminine enough, is she subject to examination? This is absolutely absurd,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose daughter is transgender. “Don’t believe for a minute this is about equal rights.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.
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