Are GOP lawmakers pushing ban on transgender athletes ignoring gender inequities at home districts?

The bill ‘does nothing to fix the deep and persistent gender inequities in athletic programs that are right in the sponsors’ backyards,’ a legal aid group says

By: - September 7, 2021 7:10 am

MONTGOMERY, AL – MARCH 30: Opponents of several bills targeting transgender youth attend a rally at the Alabama State House to draw attention to anti-transgender legislation introduced in Alabama on March 30, 2021 in Montgomery, Alabama. There are so far 192 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the United States. Of those, 93 directly target transgender people. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

Five state lawmakers who, earlier this year, sponsored a bill to ban transgender women from participating in women’s sports, are being called on to address existing gender inequities in athletic programs at schools in their home districts. 

Last spring, state Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, introduced  HB 972 or the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” touting it as a way to “protect” women’s sports, despite the absence of any scientific evidence that cisgender athletes would be displaced by, or outperformed, by transgender athletes. 

Gleim was joined on the bill by Reps. Martina White, R-Philadelphia; Dawn Keefer, R-York; Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny and Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton.

Pa. GOP House bill would ban transgender athletes from women’s interscholastic athletics


But in a 5-page letter to state lawmakers, the Women’s Law Project, a Philadelphia-based legal nonprofit that defends the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people, argued that the bill ignores existing inequities in athletic programs. 

“Supporters call HB 972 the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” yet it does nothing to fix the deep and persistent gender inequities in athletic programs that are right in the sponsors’ backyards.”

In fact, data compiled by Women’s Law Project shows that many schools under the purview of the bill’s sponsors are not meeting an acceptable Title IX Athletic Participation Gap, an indicator of Title IX inequities.

According to Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney for WLP, the percentage known as a “Title IX gap,” is “a way to quantify how inequitable a schools athletic program is.” 

 A gap of 5 percent, she said, is usually an indicator of “too few opportunities being offered to female students,” while a gap of 10 percent or more is “likely to be illegal.”

While it’s rare, Frietsche noted that schools can satisfy Title IX’s participation requirements even if they have a terrible Title IX gap rate if they “have a history and continuing practice of program expansion for women and girls, or that they have fully accommodated the interests and abilities of women and girls.”

The percentage is calculated by comparing the percentage of women who are full-time students in a district and the percentage of women athletes. The information used to calculate the Title IX Gap percentage can be found on the state Department of Education website

Looking at nine school districts across Gleim’s Cumberland County district, four schools, including Cumberland Valley High School and Carlisle High School have a Title IX Gap score over 5 percent. 

Three schools in Gleim’s legislative district have negative Title IX Gap scores, meaning they have more athletic opportunities for women than they do female students.

Eagle View Middle School has a -6.5 percent gap, while the high school in the same district - Cumberland Valley High School - has a gap of more than 8.7 percent, showing how unequal opportunities can be, even in the same school district. 

Gleim declined a request for comment. 

In Gaydos’ Allegheny County district, Avonworth High School has a gap of more than 14 percent and Avonworth Middle School has a gap of nearly 18 percent, the data showed. 

In the 11 middle and high schools in Borowicz's, 76th House  District, two schools have gap rates over 5 percent, while four more have gap rates over 10 percent. Just two schools have a rate under 5 percent and three schools did not report data. 

The 41 schools measured across the five lawmakers’ 20 school districts only represent 4 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts., But WLP believes similar inequities exist across the commonwealth. 

Amal Bass, an attorney for WLP, said it was “concerning” that sponsors of the bill have not acknowledged the existing inequities. 

“At the end of the day, we need more opportunities to be provided at these schools,” Bass told the Capital-Star. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.