Targeting vulnerable transgender kids? A cruel and dangerous waste of time | Friday Morning Coffee

If there’s any consolation, Rep. Barbara Gleim’s bill is headed for a guaranteed veto. But the GOP has showed itself for what it is

April 1, 2022 7:15 am
Lily Freeman, 15, of Bucks County, speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, 3/29/22 (Screen Capture).

Lily Freeman, 15, of Bucks County, speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, 3/29/22 (Screen Capture).

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The other day, the host of a television public affairs show asked me what I thought a group of Republican lawmakers were trying to accomplish as they pursue passage of a gratuitously cruel bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing on women’s sports teams.

I’ll admit it. I was stumped.

I couldn’t think of a single, measurable public good that would come from the bill sponsored by state Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, and others, that cleared a critical legislative committee earlier this week.

But I could think of plenty that was wrong with it.

Because when I think about that bill, all I can think about is the pain that creased the face of Lily Freeman, a 15-year-old transgender young woman from Bucks County, as she talked about the destructive impact that Gleim’s proposal would have on her and other transgender young women who have found refuge and acceptance in interscholastic athletics.

“It’s all about stripping away the connection that girls have to each other,” she said. “People in power are stripping away the definition of what it means to be a woman.”

Freeman’s about my daughter’s age — she’s 16 now, and proudly out. And I couldn’t help but wonder whether, once Republicans got done banning the transgender kids, they’d come for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or non-binary kids next.

It’s not idle speculation. We’re already halfway there. Florida has its hateful ‘Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lawmakers in 35 states have introduced legislation attacking LGBTQ+ people, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

And here at home, while lawmakers keep busy with bridge renamings and other destructive time-wasters, Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled General Assembly can’t even get around to embedding anti-discrimination protections for its LGBTQ citizens into state law — even when polling data shows that a majority of people, including Republicans, support it.

Freeman was clearly thinking the same thing. She implored lawmakers to “focus on the real issues” that all women face, such as “the pay gap, eating disorders, and sexual abuse.

“Pennsylvania is my home. Don’t let this hurtful, destructive bill come up for a vote,” she continued, her voice rising in anger. “We are trans people. We are here. And we are never going away.”

State Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, speaks at the House Education Committee Meeting on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.

During this week’s committee meeting, Gleim, meanwhile, seemed a little confused — or was at least deliberately disingenuous — about the problem her bill, which faces a guaranteed gubernatorial veto, purports to solve.

“Allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports reverses nearly 50 years of hard-earned advances for women and destroys fair competition in women’s athletic opportunities,” Gleim said, according to City & State Pa. “Biologically, males and females are different. This fact simply cannot be reversed through surgery or changes in hormones.”

Gleim’s bill, as it’s currently written, would require school sports teams to be explicitly designated as male teams, female teams or coed teams. It would also require that membership on those teams be based on an athlete’s assigned sex at birth, City & State PA reported. Under the proposal, teams designated for women or girls “may not be open to students of the male sex.”

In this, Gleim is utterly wrong. The science is simply not on her side. You’re not going to find men on women’s sports teams. That’s because transgender women are women.

“The popular belief that your sex arises only from your chromosomal makeup is wrong. The truth is, your biological sex isn’t carved in stone, but a living system with the potential for change,” Simón(e) D Sun, a doctoral candidate in the Tsien Lab at New York University’s Neuroscience Institute, wrote in a June 2019 column for Scientific American.

“The science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real,” Sun continued. “It is time that we acknowledge this. Defining a person’s sex identity using decontextualized ‘facts’ is unscientific and dehumanizing. The trans experience provides essential insights into the science of sex and scientifically demonstrates that uncommon and atypical phenomena are vital for a successful living system. Even the scientific endeavor itself is quantifiably better when it is more inclusive and diverse.”

CAMBRIDGE, MA - FEBRUARY 19: University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas reacts after her team wins the 400 yard freestyle relay during the 2022 Ivy League Womens Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, MA – FEBRUARY 19: University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas reacts after her team wins the 400 yard freestyle relay during the 2022 Ivy League Womens Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

And if it’s athletic performance and integrity that Gleim and her colleagues are trying to protect, well, they’re wrong there, too.

“A person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance,” Dr. Joshua D. Safer, the executive director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, wrote in a recent American Civil Liberties Union fact sheet on the issue.

And for a transgender woman athlete who meets NCAA standards, “there is no inherent reason why her physiological characteristics related to athletic performance should be treated differently from the physiological characteristics of a non-transgender woman,” Safer wrote.

The fact is, transgender youth desperately need the feeling of belonging and inclusion that sports offers to so many young people. They are under pressure enough — and, too often, that pressure has deadly consequences.

“In 2018, the University of Texas at Austin led one of the most ambitious studies on transgender youth aged 15 to 21 to gauge the state of their mental health. Earlier studies have already demonstrated that 82% of transgender folks experience suicidal ideation, and 40% attempt it in their lifetime — the rates are higher for trans teens,” Lazarus Nance Letcher, a transgender individual, and Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexicowrote in a March 18 Capital-Star op-Ed.

Betsy Torg, of Philadelphia, who’s the parent of a transgender child, hit the nail on the head during the same Capitol news conference where Freeman offered her searing testimony.

Gleim’s bill “rules some girls out, instead of ruling some girls in, and that’s not right,” she said.

So maybe that’s what Gleim’s bill accomplishes: It needlessly hurts and excludes vulnerable children, isolates them, and drives up their risk of dying by suicide in the name of fake science and false field-leveling that nobody wants and no one asked for.

Well done.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks with attendees on the Capital steps of a rally for gun rights on September 29, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Our Stuff.
Before he was a champion of personal freedom, GOP governor candidate Doug Mastriano tried to topple medical privacy protections for people with COVID-19, Stephen Caruso reports.

The Pennsylvania Senate committee that’s investigating the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections saw a walkout from Democratic members after its Republican chairperson refused to swear in a conservative panel during its first public meeting since September. Marley Parish has the story.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., met with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Thursday. And while he hasn’t made up his mind, the Lehigh Valley lawmaker says he’s concerned whether President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. Supreme Court will “serve as a neutral umpire of the law,” I report.

The U.S. Interior Department would see a big funding boost under President Joe Biden’s budget proposal, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler reports, while Cassie Miller explains how Pa. benefits.

A new law in Arizona could once again force the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the legality of requiring proof of citizenship for voter registrationCapital-Star Democracy Reporter Kira Lerner writes.

En la Estrella-Capital: Los funcionarios de Pa. buscan opinión pública sobre cambios en la Política de Justicia Ambiental del estado. Y Biden presenta un plan presupuestario para ‘financiar a la policía.’

On our Commentary Page this morning: The Pa. House’s transgender sports ban will harm our youth — not help them, advocate Janelle Crossley writes. And early learning is vital to children’s development. So why is funding it such a struggle? A coalition of care providers takes up the question.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget increases funding for city police and anti-violence programs, the Inquirer reports. WHYY-FM has more about that proposed $5.6 billion spending plan.

Westmoreland County Coroner Tim Carson has been hit with a $12,720 tax lien, the Tribune-Review reports.

The Republicans running for governor and U.S. Senate will participate in forums at a conservative gathering this weekend, PennLive reports.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman will skip a scheduled Democratic U.S. Senate debate at Muhlenberg College this weekend, the Morning Call reports.

In Lancaster County, a ‘smart growth’ conference envisioned the county in 20 years’ timeLancasterOnline reports.

A shooting in Lebanon County has left one police officer dead and two more wounded, the suspect also died, the Lebanon Daily News reports (via the York Daily Record).

Allentown City Council has rejected a pro-union contractor ordinance, the Morning Call also reports.

Luzerne County could team with PennDOT to build a new bridge linking the communities of Pittston and West Pittston, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

PoliticsPA asks readers for their pick to win the Republican nomination for governor. 

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

Gov Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to PennLive’s Hope Stephan, who completes another trip around the sun today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s one from Love Spit Love, the former solo project of Psychedelic Furs vocalist Richard Butler, that I just keep coming back to again and again. From 1996 or thereabouts, it’s ‘Am I Wrong?’

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The Carolina Hurricanes returned to their winning ways, topping the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 on Thursday night. Frederik Andersen made 32 saves on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.