The US House of Representatives Thursday passed a bill prohibiting the participation of transgender individuals in school athletic programs. The bill, titled “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023,” was approved along party lines, with the Republican majority in support of its passage.
Specifically, the bill targets transgender athletes whose assigned gender at birth was male. The bill states:
It shall be a violation… for a recipient of Federal financial assistance who operates, sponsors, or facilitates athletic programs or activities to permit a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.
Any violation of the bill would fall under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs or activities. This prohibition extends to public elementary and secondary schools as well as colleges and universities.
However, there are exceptions for biological males training with females. The exception is permitted:
[S]o long as no female is deprived of a roster spot on a team or sport, opportunity to participate in a practice or competition, scholarship, admission to an educational institution, or any other benefit that accompanies participating in the athletic program or activity.
The text of the bill admits its own language is ambiguous. Section 2(e) states the phrase “any other benefit” is not clear. A study to determine “the adverse psychological, developmental, participatory, and sociological” outcomes of allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports will need to be conducted.
During its passage, Democrats in the House voiced their opposition to the bill. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tweeted her speech against the bills. She stated the “dangerous bill puts transgender kids in harm’s way and puts Politics Over Participation.” US President Joe Biden has also voiced opposition to the bill. He previously threatened to veto any legislation passed by the Senate. However, the Democratic-led Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.
The Republican federal effort to prohibit trans women from participating in women’s sports mirrors efforts at a state level. Within the past three years, states such as South Carolina, Florida, Idaho and Texas have all passed laws to limit transgender athletes to participating in sports consistent with their biological sex as designated on the athletes’ birth certificates.
Not all state efforts have been met with success. Utah’s Republican Governor Spencer Cox vetoed the state’s Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities. Cox cited concerns over at-risk trans youth who experience high rates of suicide. He also pointed to a stark statistical reality. Of the 75,000 student athletes in the state, four are transgender and one is a trans woman. However, the legislature overrode the veto. Subsequently, a court issued an injunction, stopping the administration of the law. In its place, a commission will determine athlete eligibility, when needed, on a case-by-case basis.