Pa. Senate approves veto-bound legislation targeting transgender girls, women in school sports

Wednesday’s vote on a previously approved House bill comes after the GOP-controlled chamber passed its own version of the proposal

By: - June 29, 2022 3:54 pm
State Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberlaand, speaks in support of House Bill 972 during a Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

State Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberlaand, speaks in support of House Bill 972 during a Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate has again approved veto-bound legislation prohibiting transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s school sports.

The upper chamber voted 30-20 on Wednesday to send the proposal to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has already promised to veto the legislation introduced by state Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland.

Gleim has argued that the bill “ensures fairness for all and preserves athletic opportunities for women,” with Senate Republicans taking the same stance before the vote.

“This legislation protects all of those little girls that dream of competing in women’s sports,” Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, said on the Senate floor. 

She added: “It’s about genetics. It’s not about feeling one way or the other.”

Democrats, however, argued that the legislation would isolate transgender people. Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, called the proposal “a radical solution in search of a nonexistent problem.”

They also noted that the Legislature has yet to reach a budget agreement with Gov. Tom Wolf ahead of this week’s deadline and urged their colleagues to focus on passing a spending plan.

More than a dozen states — largely controlled by Republicans — have enacted laws or introduced proposals that limit transgender people from participating in school athletics consistent with their gender identities. 

Earlier this month, the Senate approved a companion bill introduced by Sens. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, to the House for consideration.

Those who support Gleim’s legislation — and the Senate GOP proposal — have cited University of Pennsylvania swimmer and NCAA Division I champion Lia Thomas as an example of why the bill is needed. Thomas became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship earlier this year.

Though Thomas followed NCAA and Ivy League rules since beginning her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy, she faced accusations of having an unfair athletic advantage.

Wolf, who leaves office in January 2023, has vowed to veto legislation restricting transgender athletes from competing in sports complying with their gender. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, called the House legislation “nothing more than cruel, designed to discriminate against transgender youth who just want to play sports like their peers” earlier this year.

A 2014 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association policy, which governs competitive primary and secondary school sports in the commonwealth, gives an “equal opportunity” to all student-athletes, without regard for race, gender, and other characteristics. 

The policy, which also allows for co-ed sports, states that “where a student’s gender is questioned or uncertain,” the principal has the final say on if — and with whom — the student can play sports. 

In 2020, Idaho became the first state to implement a law barring transgender athletes from competing on women’s sports teams. However, the law has yet to take effect due to pending litigation. Currently, 16 states, excluding Idaho and West Virginia, bar transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports.

“This bill is part of a hate-filled and coordinated campaign to stoke the culture war, divide Pennsylvanians, and distract from the real issues facing the commonwealth and our nation,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “The state Legislature could be working to protect democracy and voting rights or addressing the myriad problems in the criminal legal system, among so many other issues. Instead, some legislators are attacking children to score political points. It needs to stop.”

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