The Pennsylvania State House approved legislation that would bar transgender females from participating on female teams in school sports.
The bill was approved by a 115-84 count and now heads to the Senate. Governor Tom Wolf has indicated that he will veto the bill if/when it gets to his desk.
House Bill 972 – also known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” – was first introduced by state Rep. Barbara Gleim (R-Cumberland) last spring. 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/Centre).
Under the bill, an athletic team or sport designated for females, women or girls may not be open to biological males. In addition, a student deprived of an athletic opportunity or who suffers direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of this act by a college or public school would be able to file a lawsuit against the college or high school.
Prior to the vote, there was 90 minutes of impassioned debate.
“The inherent physical advantages a male has when it comes to competitive sports is not something a change in hormone levels can rectify,” said Gleim. “Their bodies are bigger, stronger, faster and are built for greater endurance. Those are simply the facts.”
Gaydos said allowing transgender girls in girls’ sports “destroys fair competition, it doesn’t create it.”
“As a former Division III (Dickinson College) lacrosse player, I can’t imagine playing against biological males who are bigger, faster, stronger,” Gaydos said.
“Today, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the same type of legislation vetoed in Utah,” said State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) in a statement. “It seeks to ban transgender students from athletic competition in Pennsylvania and reflects terrible priorities. First, the legislation would do nothing to fix any real problems in Pennsylvania. The sponsor of the legislation admits he cannot name a single transgender athlete in Pennsylvania. Second, the legislation would do nothing to fund our schools, allocate money to support health care, mental health, support small businesses recovering from the pandemic or facing supply chain cost constraints, increase wages for Pennsylvania’s workers, create more jobs, reduce child care costs, put more money in the pockets of Pennsylvanians, or deliver property tax relief to overburdened homeowners and small business owners. Nothing.”
Rep. Austin Davis (D-Allegheny) said the legislation demonstrates a “lack of empathy and, sadly, outright hate.”
Rep. Joe Hohenstein (D-Philadelphia), in his comments on the House floor, said that one of his children is a transgender youth.
“This bill is a solution looking for a problem and creating additional problems. You are rejecting the humanity of children like mine. If you believe you are protecting other children, all you are doing is keeping all of our children from being able to experience the full range of the human experience,” he said.
White said in her remarks that “science, and common sense, tells us that biological males are bigger, faster and stronger than females. They have larger hearts and lungs, denser bones, stronger muscles and generate more force in athletics. These are all advantages that cannot be undone.”
Rep. Anita Kulik (D-Kennedy) said she understands both sides’ views, but did not like that this legislation opens schools up to potential litigation. The NCAA and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should be the decision makers on these issues, she added.
“I truly believe it should be left to the organizations we have given the authority to address these sports issues,” Ms. Kulik added.
Currently, the NCAA policy calls for transgender participation for each sport to be determined by the policy for the national governing body of that sport, subject to ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports to the Board of Governors. If there is no NGB policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy would be followed. If there is no international federation policy, previously established IOC policy criteria would be followed.
Four Democrats broke ranks and voted with almost all Republican members on the legislation. Democrats who supported the legislation were: Rep. Frank Burns (D- Cambria), Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), and Rep. Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence).
Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) was the only Republican to vote against the legislation.
The House vote came a day after the Senate Education committee approved a similar measure. The action also comes amidst wide opposition among Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidates to allowing transgender females to play in girls’ or women’s sports and in the wake of similar laws enacted in a number of GOP-controlled states.
State senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), a member of the Senate Education Committee, is hopeful the body will take the legislation up.
“Certainly it is an issue that I’m hearing from constituents, families, and school districts all across Lancaster County,” he said. “Hempfield, for example, it’s been an issue recently. I think it’s a good piece of legislation (but) I don’t know what the timing is.”