House Republicans passed a bill Thursday that would bar transgender women and girls from playing on athletic teams that correspond with their gender identity, a key campaign promise that Democrats denounced as cruel and discriminatory.
The measure, which passed the House on a party-line vote of 219-203, is part of a larger campaign waged by conservatives around the nation to curtail transgender civil rights.
At least 21 states have adopted laws barring trans women and girls from participating in high school and college sports consistent with their gender identity. The American Civil Liberties Union says it is currently tracking 467 anti-LGBTQ measures, including proposals to ban drag shows, prevent trans youth from receiving gender-affirming health care and prevent trans students from changing their pronouns without parental permission.
“For thousands of years in human history, we have recognized as a species that there are women and there are men who are obviously biologically different,” the measure’s chief sponsor, Rep. Greg Steube, R.-Fla., said during floor debate Wednesday. “Yet over the last several years there has been a perversion in our culture by the enemy, and the left completely embraced the lie to erase the lines of gender and to convince you … gender is fluid and can be whatever you want.”
President Joe Biden is prepared to veto the measure, the White House said in a statement that condemned the bill for stigmatizing a vulnerable population of transgender youth. But it is unlikely to reach his desk: Democrats who control the Senate have shown little appetite for backing the House GOP’s conservative education agenda.
The measure would amend Title IX, a federal law barring discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational institutions. The changes would prevent anyone whose biological sex at birth was male from participating in high school and college sports programs for women or girls.
The GOP added two amendments during floor debate. One, proposed by Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee, would define athletic programs to include any activity available only to members of an athletic team. The other, put forth by Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, would authorize a study on the effects of permitting trans athletes to join women’s teams.
“As a woman who is pro-LGBTQ, I don’t care how you dress, I don’t care what pronoun you take, I don’t care if you change your gender,’’ Mace said Thursday. “But we ought to protect biological women and girls.”
In an unusual step, the executive board of the nonpartisan LGBTQ Congressional Staff Association issued a statement Thursday denouncing what it called “offensive and transphobic rhetoric” on the floor of the House.
“As a board, we recognize the heightened pain that many of our members are experiencing at this moment,’’ the group said.
Several lawmakers delivered speeches on Wednesday against the measure and expressed solidarity with the trans community.
“Most people in the United States don’t know someone who is transgender and that can lead to fear of the unknown,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D.-Wis., chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus. “Some less scrupulous politicians feed that fear and are willing to bully people, even kids, to lift themselves. … They argue there’s a national problem if trans girls participate in girls school sports. That’s a lie.”
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said the measure is driven by GOP politics. “They came up with this campaign against trans kids, a sinister political operation to use these kids to advance their success in politics,” he said.
Republicans accuse Democrats of misrepresenting the measure. “All of these ridiculous things we’ve been accused of are not in this bill,’’ said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R.-N.C., the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “This bill does not discriminate against anyone. It does not exhibit any hate toward anyone. What it does is prohibit federal funding to any institutions that … ‘permit a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that’s designated for women or girls.”’
Transgender individuals constitute a tiny minority of the U.S. population. But Republicans say trans women and girls are taking athletic and scholarship opportunities from female athletes.
“The left’s hypocrisy on this issue has resulted in women being demolished in competitions, physically brutalized going up against stronger opponents,’’ said Rep. Lisa McClain, R.-Mich. “They are losing individual games, state championships and NCAA championships to biological males.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Education proposed a rule for Title IX regulations to bar “one-size-fits-all” categorical bans that exclude all transgender girls and women from any female athletic team.
Instead, schools could develop eligibility criteria that could, in some circumstances, limit participation by trans athletes at more competitive levels of sports, including high school and college athletics. The rule is subject to a period of public comment before it can take effect.
During the House debate, several Democratic members offered a message of support to transgender youth.
“I want to speak plainly to our trans kids,’’ said Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass. “You belong. You are enough. You deserve to show up fully in this world. … In the classroom and on the soccer field you should not be subject to discrimination. You should be able to just be a kid.”