Protection and Fairness In Women’s Sports Acts- A Cloak for the Attacks on Trans People by Conservative Politicians

You’re 12 years old and just started to play soccer. You love it. Being part of the team. Improving day after day.  The way it mentally and physically pushes you. Then your state senator proposes a law that wouldn’t let you play with your team anymore all because you’re transgender. This methodical attack on trans kids is being waged in over 30 states because of the “The Fairness In Women’s Sports Act”. Don’t be fooled by the boilerplate name of these blatantly transphobic laws, it’s not as if republicans had an awakening about the value of women’s sports, rather the laws are the aggressive progression of the right’s attack on queer people thathave been in the works for decades. Every child has the right to play on sports teams consistent with their gender identity and these laws cannot be tolerated.

For years conservative politicians have been scoring cheap points by fear mongering their base and beyond into believing already marginalized groups are the enemy. Trans and gender non conforming children are not exempt from these attacks. In fact, often they are hit the hardest, andunfortunately it is only getting worse. When a massive wave of anti-trans legislation swept the country in 2021, so did a substantial uptick in anti trans hate crimes. In 2021, anti-transgender hate crimes rose by 29 percent, with 342 incidents, and those are just the ones reported. The vast majority of these victims are black trans women. In that same year, an astonishing 59 trans or gender non conforming people were murdered. Instead of focusing efforts on stopping this epidemic of violence, lawmakers are instead deciding to further limit people’s freedom by attempting to prohibit trans and gender non conforming people from participating in sports. 

Rather than these lawmakers prohibiting trans kids from playing sports, they should actually promote it. Like most extracurricular activities, sports benefit mental health tremendously. With depression, anxiety and suicide rates rising among all young people, it is more important than ever to expand these activities for all. The rise in youth mental illness is most pronounced in trans kids. The Trevor Project’s 2022 state-level analysis of 34,000 trans and non-bianry people aged 13-24 concluded that in Pennsylvania 54% of LGBTQ youth concidered suicide, 19% of non-bianary and trans youth attempted suicide in the past year and 58% of trans and gender non conforming students said their school is not an LGBTQ affirming space. Despite sports being a great outlet, many politicians, including in our own state, continue pushing to ban trans children from competing in sports teams that align with their gender. Just last legislative session, HB 972 known colloquially as the very, very original name “Protection of Women’s Sports Act” was introduced to the PA House by sponsor Representative Barbara Gleim. This bill would ban all transgender girls and women from taking part in athletic teams designated for “females, wome, or girls”  in any public institution. Thankfully, former Governor Tom Wolf vetoed this bill. The same bill, SB 1191 was proposed in the PA senate in the 2021-2022 regular session by our very own Blair County State senator- Judy Ward. Ward says, “ I believe that sports teams should be separated based on biology, because of biological differences between sexes,” Ok? But these bills seek to stop trans children in elementary school from competing on sports teams that align with their gender. So, while it is true males generally have advantages in athletics because of greater muscle strength and height compared to females, those advantages don’t become apparent until puberty, when trans people can sometimes opt to take puberty blockers, thus not giving them any advantage to their female counterparts. Even if a trans person didn’t take puberty blockers or if they transition later in life, if they meet NCAA standards then why should they be barred from competing? 

Gracie Gioiosa

Besides the bills being extremely transphobic and making up a problem that doesn’t need a solution, if it, or a variation, were to be passed it also leaves much confusion. For example, the bill fails to take into account the existence of intersex people, it mentions only three ways a sports team can be designated- “Male, men or boys”, “Female, women or girls,” “Coed or mixed”. This leaves the many intersex Pennsylvanians in a legal gray zone when trying to play a sport. This law also creates a slippery slope when it comes to allegations about being trans. If somebody is upset they were beat, can they just ‘accuse’ the person who beat them as being trans? If so, how would they go about that in an appropriate, non-invasive way?

Another one of many issues with this law is that many conservatives, including Senator Ward, who are in favor of bills like SB 1191 tend to sight Title IX as a reason why trans people shouldn’t be allowed to play sports, “This is why we have Title IX sports, so biological women can compete on an equal footing with other biological women,” Ward said. Title IX was meant to extend the protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to education guarantees. When it was originally passed, sports were never mentioned. It wasn’t until 1974 when Texas Senator John Tower attempted to amend Title IX to make sports immune to prohibitions against sex discrimination. His amendment failed, but it did raise questions about the relationship between women’s sports and Title IX. When  Title IX was altered to include sports protections, republicans weren’t too thrilled about it, arguing that women are actually the ones given preferential treatment in sports. Despite this being the furthest thing from the truth, it wasn’t until they realized they could use this act that they despise to spread their hatred of the trans community that they began to warm up to it. However if they truly cared about fairness in women’s sports or title IX, they would provide more funding and opportunities for girls sports. It is evident that girl’s and boy’s school sports teams are not equal. According to Altoona’s latest Athletic Opportunities disclosure form, only 39.1% of the student varsity athletes are girls. Furthermore, the average money spent on one varsity boy student athlete is $861.63, while the average amount of money spent on one varsity girl student athlete is over $100 less, at $758.30. Call me crazy, but I think devoting our time and energy into actually making sports more equitable is much more productive than fighting against the very few trans people who compete in sports.

Proponents of these kinds of bills argue that these laws aren’t actually even banning trans kids from competing in sports. And, to a point, this is somewhat true. In the PA Senate Bill it does say “Nothing in this section shall be construed to restrict the eligibility of a student to participate in an interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural or club athletic team or sport designed for the student’s sex or designated coed or mixed,” However say you signed up for basketball and had to play on the girls basketball team as a boy, would you feel comfortable playing? Probably not. They know this, and they know it will without a doubt deter what little trans and gender non conforming athletes there are from participating in sports. This is just part of the orchestrated effort to shun people who don’t conform to gender norms from the public sphere.

Prior to the realization that conservatives could use trans athletes to push their anti queer agenda, the only mind they paid to women’s athletics was mocking any women who called for equal resources or pay. If republicans actually wanted to make women’s sports fair, they would advocate for increased participation, opportunities, funding, and resources in girls sports, as well as the crackdown of predatory coaches and doctors. This harmful legislation will harm every student athlete and cannot spread any further than it already has.

Gracie Gioisa