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Legislation Would Ban Transgender Athletes From Competing On Cisgender Female Sports Teams

Rick Bowmer
A proposed ban on transgender athletes playing female school sports would affect transgender girls like this 12-year-old swimmer seen at a pool in Utah on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

Five Republican state representatives introduced legislation Monday that would exclude transgender female athletes from playing on cisgender girls’ teams. 

The so-called “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” is among more than 40 similar proposals across the country aimed at prohibiting athletes who identify as transgender from competing in sports based on their gender identity.

State Reps. Valarie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland), Martina White (R-Philadelphia), Dawn Keefer (R-York) and Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton and Center counties) sponsored the bill. Its introduction follows President Joe Biden’s January executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislators claim that policy violates Title IX, a 1972 federal civil-rights law that protects people from sex-based discrimination

“Title IX was designed to stop discrimination and create equal athletic opportunities for women,” said Gleim. “In complete contrast, allowing [individuals assigned male at birth] to compete in girls' and women's sports destroys fair competition and women's athletic opportunities.

But the legislators presented little in the way of data to suggest a broad pattern of cisgender athletes losing out on scholarship or other opportunities. And data from a number of organizations, including the left-leaning Center for American Progress, found that inclusive athletic policies create a supportive atmosphere for all players, not just those who identify as transgender. When a reporter noted that some Pennslyvania school districts already have policies to protect trans students, the sponsors said they hadn't spoken to those districts about the practices, but said the law would require them to be changed.

Gaydos, the lone House member from western Pennsylvania to be a prime sponsor of the bill, did not speak about the legislation itself during her remarks. She spoke instead about the role sports can have in building leadership opportunities for women.

Preston Heldibridle, state policy associated with the LGBTQ advocacy group Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said there’s little if any evidence that cisgender athletes miss out on scholarships they otherwise would have received.

“Studies have shown that inclusive policies result in greater participation in school sports, not less,” Heldibridle said. “We all want to see women and girls sports teams thrive, but discriminating against transgender youth does nothing to advance that goal.”

As a four-sport transgender athlete himself, Heldibridle said he actually stopped participating in sports when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be accepted based on his gender identity.

“I didn’t want to make a fuss, and I felt that loss keenly,” Heldibridle said. “It’s unacceptable for trans kids to be turned away from opportunities.”

The Wolf administration has not yet publicly commented on the legislation. 

Katie Blackley:

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Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.