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Pennsylvania bill targets transgender girls in school sports

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Republican proposal to prevent transgender girls from competing in girls’ school sports passed the Pennsylvania House Education Committee on Tuesday, over Democratic opposition.

The 15-9 party-line vote advanced the “Save Women’s Sports Act” bill so it can be considered by the GOP-majority chamber. It would restrict players to male or female teams based on their reproductive organs, biology or genetics at birth.

The bill says athletic teams designated for women or girls may not be open to “students of the male sex,” and would give students and schools a route to sue, including against athletic organizations. It covers K-12 school teams, college sports, intramurals and club teams sponsored by school entities.

“No one should be forcing biological females to compete against biological males,” said bill cosponsor Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, before the vote. “It is patently wrong and unfair.”

In a co-sponsorship memo issued early a year ago, White and four other Republican women in the House argued that “allowing biological males to complete in girls sports” reverses some five decades of advancement toward equal athletic opportunities for women.

Republican governors in Utah and Indiana this month vetoed legislation to ban transgender players from girls’ sports, as the chief executives said bans address a problem that is virtually nonexistent in their states and a distraction to broader efforts toward a conservative agenda. The Utah Legislature subsequently overrode that governor.

In Pennsylvania, objections to transgender girls in sports have mostly arisen involving girls’ track teams, said the bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland.

“To me, the issue isn’t necessarily how many issues that you’re having in your state, and the issue isn’t how many trans students there are in your state,” Gleim said. “The issue is that biological women should have their own category, and it isn’t fair.”

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which opposes the bill, said trans athletes have long competed in sports without raising notice or objections.

“We’re seeing people who want to erase trans people from public life making an issue of it,” said the ACLU’s Andy Hoover. “That’s the problem — these folks are pushing a public policy of exclusion and isolation of trans students.”

Recent focus on the issue has been on University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a trans woman who won a title at the national NCAA Women’s Division I championship nearly two weeks ago.

Rep. Mary Isaacson of Philadelphia, a Democrat on the committee, said athletes’ eligibility should be addressed by their sports’ governing bodies.

“We’re sticking our nose in and trying to impose how we feel — apparently some of you feel — women should be treated,” Isaacson said. “I think all women should be lifted up and supported, regardless of what others might deem them to be. And I know this bill only attacks women, and trans girls specifically. I’m not in the business of going after our gender.”

The NCAA has a sport-by-sport policy that sets transgender participation by the national governing body of that sport, subject to review by its Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association leaves decisions about transgender athletes to their principals.

“Where a student’s gender is questioned or uncertain, the decision of the principal as to the student’s gender will be accepted by PIAA,” the association says.

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