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House Republicans Likely to Pass Anti-Transgender Sports Bill

House Republicans Likely to Pass Anti-Transgender Sports Bill

Congressman Gregory Steube and women athetes

While it's not expected to pass the Senate, it's still important to stand up and speak out against such legislation, LGBTQ+ advocates say.

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote Thursday on a national transgender-exclusionary sports bill, and it’s likely to pass that body but go no further, LGBTQ+ activists say.

“This bill, if it passes the House, is dead on arrival in the Senate,” David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign, tells The Advocate. The Democrats have a majority in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer undoubtedly would not call a vote on the bill and Republicans can’t force a vote, Stacy notes.

“There’s not much more life to it as a stand-alone bill,” says Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ+ interests. However, Republicans may try to attach the ban as an amendment to other legislation, he adds.

The bill is House Resolution 734, titled the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube, a Florida Republican, it would bar “individuals of the male sex,” as assigned at birth, from competing on female sports teams in K-12 schools and higher education institutions that receive federal funding, according to a summary of the legislation. It would establish that allowing trans girls and women on female teams is a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. Almost all schools receive some amount of federal funding.

In introducing the bill, Steube said in a press release, “Allowing biological males to participate in women’s sports is a complete affront to the hardworking women and girls who have spent their lives training to achieve their dreams. .... Floridians and Americans across the country are rightly outraged at what has become of women’s sports. We’ve seen time and time again how the far left only favors fairness when it aligns with their woke agenda. That’s why today, I’m pleased reintroduce legislation that ensures women and girls a fair playing field in competitive sports.”

Steube’s bill is the opposite of the Biden administration’s proposed rule on enforcement of Title IX, which would hold that “categorically” barring trans student athletes from competing under their gender identity violates Title IX. The administration has won praise from LGBTQ+ activists for that wording but criticism for proposing to allow some exceptions. President Joe Biden has vowed to veto HR 734 if it reaches his desk.

The legislation is not likely to get that far, according to Pocan and Stacy, but this and other anti-LGBTQ+ and specifically anti-trans bills are still cause for concern. Twenty states have adopted laws that either bar all trans students from competing under their gender identity or bar trans girls and women from female teams. Some of the laws deal only with K-12 public schools, sometimes including charter schools or private schools that play against public ones. Some address public colleges and universities as well.

The push to pass these laws has come in recent years even though very few trans students are participating in school sports. A small number have won championships, but trans athletes do not dominate school sports by any means. Anti-LGBTQ+ activists claim that trans girls and women have unfair advantages over cisgender females, but scientists and LGBTQ+ advocates say this is not the case. And conservative Republicans have notably shown no interest in protecting women’s rights in general.

The House has a narrow Republican majority, and most Republicans will probably vote for it, while a few Democrats may do so as well, Stacy says. Pocan agrees that Republicans most likely have the votes to pass it.

Unfortunately, with the Republican House majority and Kevin McCarthy as speaker, that chamber is not expected to take up any pro-LGBTQ+ legislation, such as the Equality Act, during the 2023-2024 term. The Equality Caucus will likely spend this term fighting bad legislation as well as promoting positive measures, Pocan says, but he’s optimistic that Democrats can recapture the chamber in the 2024 election.

Floor debate on HR 734 took place Wednesday, with debate on amendments and a final vote scheduled for Thursday. In addition to the HRC and the Equality Caucus, many other LGBTQ+ advocates have denounced the measure. “With trans youth under cruel and sustained attack in statehouses across the country, it is unconscionable and abhorrent that members of the U.S. House of Representatives are using their positions to amplify the cruelty,” Sasha Buchert, director of Lambda Legal’s Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, said in a press release. “We urge our elected representatives to halt this harmful bill in its tracks while we also take some comfort in knowing President Biden has promised to veto this bill should it ever arrive on his desk. Trans youth need and deserve our love and support, not the targeted discrimination and cruelty HR 734 represents.”

Others that have condemned the legislation include the Trevor Project, GLSEN, PFLAG National, the American Civil Liberties Union, teachers’ unions, numerous women athletes (cis as well as trans), and women’s rights organizations.

With this bill pending in Congress and a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures — more than 500 this year, by HRC’s count — it’s more important than ever for the queer community and allies to speak out, Stacy and Pocan note.

“There has never been a more important time for people to be contacting their legislators,” Stacy says, adding, “People have got to speak up now and speak up loudly.”

Coming out is part of that, Pocan notes, pointing out that anti-trans lawmakers don’t think they know anyone who is trans. “I think we have always been best when we let people know who we are,” says Pocan, a cis gay man. He recommends that LGBTQ+ constituents share their stories with elected officials. “That kind of advocacy helps,” he says.

Stacy also says that despite the rash of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation out there, “the public is still with us.” Young people, he adds, overwhelmingly support LGBTQ+ equality and will continue to do so as they age. “If we win them now, we win them forever,” he says.

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