Iowa and Utah have become the latest states to advance legislation restricting transgender students’ participation in school sports.
The Iowa House of Representatives Monday approved a bill that would bar trans girls and women from competing on female teams at K-12 schools as well as both public and private colleges and universities, The Des Moines Register reports. The vote was 55-39, with all but one Republican supporting it and all Democrats opposed. It also states that any student who has suffered harm through a violation of these regulations has grounds to sue.
The Senate’s vote on its version of the legislation could come this week. Its bill does not include private colleges and universities. It has already been approved by a Senate committee.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has urged state lawmakers to pass such legislation, but she said she would wait for a final version before she commits to signing it into law.
Reynolds and other supporters of bills like this claim they will assure fairness to cisgender girls and women. Opponents say they constitute out-and-out discrimination against trans people.
“Putting this into Iowa law and using positions of power to go after the most vulnerable of us — children — would send a very chilling message that Iowa isn’t welcoming,” said Democratic Rep. Ross Wilburn, according to the Register. “This legislation is discrimination, plain and simple.”
In Utah, the House last week approved a bill that would set up a commission to determine trans athletes’ eligibility to compete under their gender identity. It applies to public middle schools and high schools, and the commission would evaluate each athlete individually according to standards laid out in the bill. The Senate is now considering it.
The bill was a compromise that didn’t satisfy groups on either side of the issue, radio station KUER reports. The commission would include a doctor and sports physiologist appointed by the speaker of the House, and that opens it to political bias, said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.
“We’re worried about the House of Representatives choosing what medical doctors will be on the commission, which could be weighted against transgender kids if, for example, not currently, but in the future, someone in the House had an anti-transgender bias,” Williams told the station. He also would prefer that the commission determine the characteristics rather than have them contained in the bill.
Meanwhile, the conservative group Utah Eagle Forum opposes the bill because it isn’t an outright ban on trans girls in girls’ sports. “This bill will allow biological boys to continue to play with biological girls,” Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, told KUER. “If we pass this bill, you will eliminate girls’ sports. We will only have boys’ sports and coed sports.”
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday that he is keeping his “mind open” about the legislation, Salt Lake City television station KUTV reports.
“I am hopeful that we will get something where Equality Utah and Rep. Birkeland can come together and say we like this. It’s not perfect, but it’s better,“ Cox said at his monthly press conference. Rep. Kara Birkeland is the bill’s sponsor.
Last year, trans-exclusionary sports legislation failed to pass after Cox raised concerns about the effect on trans youth.
South Dakota is the only state where an anti-trans sports bill has become law this year. Last year such bills were signed into law in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia, while Idaho enacted such a law in 2020. The Idaho and West Virginia laws have been blocked by courts while suits against them proceed.
While supporters of trans-exclusionary sports bills claim trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage over cisgender females, both activists and scientists dispute this, pointing out that there are many factors besides gender assigned at birth that contribute to an athlete’s performance. There is no widespread domination of girls’ and women’s sports by trans athletes, while legislation like this further marginalizes an already oppressed minority, activists point out.