WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans voted Thursday to prohibit transgender student athletes from competing on girls sports teams consistent with their gender identity, at the same time multiple GOP-dominated states are making similar moves.
The bill, H.R. 734, which would apply to K-12 schools as well as colleges that receive federal funding, passed on a party-line vote of 219-203. It has no chance of success in the U.S. Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats.
The measure singles out transgender female athletes by making it a violation of Title IX for schools to allow “a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.” Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs.
Its broad language would amend Title IX so that “sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
The White House released a statement saying President Joe Biden would veto the legislation if it ever came to his desk.
“As a national ban that does not account for competitiveness or grade level, H.R. 734 targets people for who they are and therefore is discriminatory,” according to the White House.
This is the first time an anti-trans bill dealing with school sports has made it through a chamber of Congress. But in the states, this legislative session alone, 498 bills that would restrict the rights of transgender people in all kinds of policy areas have been introduced in 49 states, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker.
Those 21 states that have passed bans on transgender youth in sports are Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, West Virginia, Wyoming, Indiana and Mississippi.
Democratic governors in Kansas and last year Kentucky had their vetoes of bills banning transgender athletes overridden.
Prior to the Thursday vote, House members spent Wednesday debating the bill, with Democrats calling it harmful to children, and Republicans arguing there is a need to protect women.
The chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, said the bill “is not about callousness,” but about “women athletes being erased.”
There are about 30 openly transgender students who have participated in college athletics, which has about 480,000 athletes.
“We are not sensationalizing this problem” she said. “Females are being hurt by it and action must be taken to stop that.”
The top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, said the bill is “mean spirited.”
“The bottom line is we should let parents, doctors and sports organizations do their jobs to protect student athletes,” Scott said.
Several Democrats questioned how the bill would be enforced. Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington asked how schools would verify a young girl’s “reproductive anatomy.”
“If your daughter doesn’t look feminine enough, is she subject to an examination?” Jayapal asked. “This (bill) is absolutely absurd.”
Jayapal, who has a transgender daughter, said that “Republicans are cruelly scapegoating children to distract you from the very fact that you don’t have actual solutions that answer the American people’s problems.”
The House Education and Workforce Committee passed the bill in early March along party lines after a 16-hour mark-up.
Biden administration proposed rule
The House legislation is also a rebuke of a newly proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Education that would amend Title IX to codify protections for transgender student athletes in public schools by barring blanket state bans on those athletes. That proposed rule would invalidate the 21 states that have passed laws to ban transgender athletes from competing in sports consistent with their gender identity.
The proposed rule would halt blanket bans on transgender students from K-8 and would set a high bar for restrictions on transgender athletes at the high school and college level.
The House bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Florida, criticized the Biden administration for infiltrating “every aspect of the federal government with trans speak,” calling out the Department of Education’s proposed amendment to Title IX.
“Title IX was created for women’s sports, and now the left wants to kill it,” he said. “In them giving homage to the trans movement, they’re abandoning women all across the country.”
Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island questioned how the bill would be enforced and called it “creepy” because it’s “gonna require genital inspections of kids,” though there is nothing in the bill text that would require such inspections.
Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon said she was concerned about the “increase in and apparent normalization of attacks against trans students,” across the country.
“Trans rights are human rights, and denying trans students the opportunity to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity sends a clear message to those students that they don’t matter,” Bonamici said.
But two House Republicans, Reps. Pete Stauber of Minnesota and Lisa McClain of Michigan, said they found it outrageous that they even had to pass the bill.
Stauber said Democrats are trying to weaken Title IX rules, which is why the bill is needed.
“I am enraged that we have reached a point in this country where we have to talk about a bill to protect women and women’s sports is even necessary,” McClain said.
Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who is the chair of the Equality Caucus, said the bill was about Republicans building a political brand and fundraising because nothing in the bill would “address the severe inequities between men’s and women’s sports.”
Pocan pointed to Utah, where the governor vetoed a bill that would have barred a total of four transgender athletes in the state from competing in high school sports that include 85,000 athletes.
“Four trans youth, only one girl,” Pocan said. “There’s your raging national problem.”
The Republican-controlled state legislature in Utah overrode the Republican governor’s veto, but the law is currently prevented from going into effect due to a court injunction.
The same thing happened in Indiana, where Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill barring transgender girls from competing in girls sports, but the state legislature overrode his veto.
That’s also been the case in other states where bans are on hold due to temporary injunctions, including Idaho, West Virginia and Montana, where that injunction applies only to bans in higher education and not K-12.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a West Virginia request to put the state’s transgender ban in place while litigation continues.
North Carolina lawmakers are currently working on a state ban of transgender athletes from middle and high schools to college level from competing in girls and women’s team sports.
The House passed an amendment to the legislation, 216-205, from Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who said it would allow for a study on the “adverse effects” on women for allowing transgender women to compete in sports that align with their gender identity. She said the amendment would be dedicated to Riley Gaines.
Gaines has launched campaigns across the U.S. lobbying against letting transgender women compete in sports that align with their gender identity, after she tied with University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, the first openly trans woman to compete in the NCAA women’s division.
Mace, who said she is pro-LGBTQ, argued that the amendment is about “following the science,” and that the psychological effects of women competing with transgender women need to be studied.
“Women should not be ignored in this situation,” she said.