Rebekah Bruesehoff, a transgender student athlete, speaks at a press conference on LGBTQI+ rights, at the U.S. Capitol on March 8, 2023, in Washington, DC. Bruesehoff spoke out against the proposed national trans sports ban being considered by Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Photo by Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – The U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee early Thursday passed a bill on a party-line vote that would block transgender girls from competing in school sports consistent with their gender identity, a reflection of a broader push in multiple states to curb the rights of transgender student athletes.
The bill, H.R. 734, introduced by Rep. Greg Steube, a Florida Republican, would amend Title IX to require student athletes to compete in sports in accordance with “a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth,” with the bill’s language specifically targeting transgender girls.
The bill would also make it a Title IX violation for facilities that receive federal funding to allow transgender female athletes to compete in sports designated for women.
After a more than 16-hour markup that lasted from Wednesday morning into early Thursday, the legislation passed 25-17.
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Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education program or activities that receive federal funding. It is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education.
The sports legislation is part of a national campaign by Republican lawmakers and conservative groups in the states to restrict the rights of people in the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender youth.
The chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said the bill was the Republican Party’s “commitment to America.”
“Men are not women, women are not men,” she said. “They certainly shouldn’t compete against each other in any publicly funded arena.”
The bill will likely pass a Republican-controlled House, but is expected to die in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority. There is currently no Senate sponsor for the bill in this Congress, but in the prior one, Sen. Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, introduced the Senate version of the bill.
During the markup, Democrats introduced five amendments, where they argued that several of them would strengthen Title IX, such as protecting athletes’ privacy and providing resources for parents and students to report cases of discrimination.
But three out of five of those amendments were blocked from a vote because Foxx and the House parliamentarian ruled that the amendments were outside the scope of the original bill.
Small numbers of transgender students
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, said instead of addressing real issues in education such as student mental health, achievement gaps and declining math and science skills, Republicans have “chosen to use our first markup to advance a political agenda by politicizing students’ education, scapegoat some of our most vulnerable students as a cause of inequity in athletics.”
Scott, like nearly every Democrat on the committee during the markup, pointed out that transgender students are a small fraction of the population, and even a smaller population when it comes to youths in sports.
More than 8 million students compete in high school athletics, and more than 480,000 students compete as National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes, according to the NCAA.
There are currently only 32 transgender athletes who openly compete in college sports, Scott said, adding that there are more lawmakers on the committee than college transgender athletes.
There are 45 members of the committee.
“It’s ludicrous to suggest that such a handful of athletes, who pose no evidentiary threat, justifies national congressional action,” he said.
UCLA’s School of Law Williams Institute estimates that there are about 1.6 million people ages 13 and up who identify as transgender in the U.S. Of that population, 300,000 are youth ages 13 to 17 and make up 1.4% of the U.S. population for that age group.
‘Scapegoating in a cultural war’
Democrats argued the legislation would harm transgender children.
“This is about scapegoating in a cultural war a group of trans kids and criminalizing their existence,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, said. “We are mired in this cultural war created and started by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and trans kids in this war, become mere collateral damage.”
Conservative lawmakers and advocates at the state and federal level have seized upon issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, particularly about gender studies in schools. They have also pushed back on efforts to teach about racism, accusing schools of teaching critical race theory, which is a college-level course of study that is not taught at the K-12 level.
It’s resulted in state and local bills passed that place bans on transgender youth from using school facilities, such as bathrooms, that are consistent with their gender identity. Thousands of books from LGBTQ authors or stories that feature LGBTQ characters have been banned in schools.
House Republicans did not address any criticism from Democrats that the bill discriminated against transgender athletes. They instead focused on the argument that sports should be separated by biological sex and that this bill would protect girls.
One Republican, Bob Good of Virginia, said it was a moral issue.
“God does not make mistakes,” he said. “He creates us perfectly unique as individuals, and all of us are either immutably male or immutably female.”
Rep. Burgess Owens, a Utah Republican, introduced the only amendment by Republicans, which was a substitute for the bill’s text. The original sponsor of the bill, Steube, did not speak on the issue.
Owens, a former professional football player, said sports had a profound impact on him as a student, and he’s seen how sports can have a positive impact on women.
“I’ve seen how sports empower the women in my lives, including my five daughters, and have helped shape their character,” Owens said. “I’m sad to think that the same opportunities might not be available in the future.”
He said that this bill would ensure that girls are protected under Title IX.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, introduced an amendment to change the title of the bill from the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023” to “The Stigmatizing Vulnerable Children Act.”
“We need to be exactly clear about what this bill does and what the consequences of this bill would be,” she said, noting that transgender kids have participated in sports for decades.
Jayapal said in 2004 the International Olympic Committee Executive Board announced that transgender athletes could compete in the Olympics, and in 2008 her home state became the first state to allow transgender children to compete in sports in accordance to their gender identity.
Her amendment was voted down in a voice vote.
Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla., pushed back on the bill and said it would be harmful to transgender students and would weaponize Title IX.
“Unfortunately, these efforts join the wave of anti-trans legislation sweeping the nation, including in my state of Florida,” Wilson said.
States with bans
So far, 18 states with Republican-controlled state legislatures have banned transgender athletes from competing in sports that are consistent with their gender identity.
Those states that have passed bans on transgender youth in sports are Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana and Mississippi.
Some of those bans have not gone into effect yet and are on hold due to temporary injunctions such as those in Idaho, West Virginia, Indiana, Utah and Montana, where that injunction applies only to bans in higher education and not K-12.
Bonamici introduced an amendment which would prohibit institutions of higher education from requiring athletes to provide reproductive and sexual health information, including information about an athlete’s menstrual cycle.
“It is never okay to ask for unnecessary menstrual and reproductive information from women and girls as a basis for determining eligibility for sports,” she said.
Foxx said she disagreed with the amendment, because “this amendment strips out the underlying bill.”
Foxx said it was a “radical attempt to erase women.”
“H.R. 734 is about protecting women from discrimination and unfair playing fields,” Foxx said. “This amendment prevents the achievement of both goals.”
Bonamici’s amendment was voted down in a voice vote.
The committee also marked up and passed a second bill, H.R. 5, the “Parents Bill of Rights Act” introduced by Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La. It also passed on a 25-17 party-line vote.
That bill would require public schools to provide materials for parents to review such as books in the school library, curriculum and budgets. If those schools do not comply, those institutions could lose federal funding.
The bill would also limit classwork and books that deal with issues related to race and sex.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is planning to bring the parents bill of rights to a floor vote as early as March 20, according to Politico.
Republicans who voted for both bills:
Virginia Foxx of North Carolina
Joe Wilson of South Carolina
Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania
Tim Walberg of Michigan
Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin
Elise M. Stefanik of New York
Rick W. Allen of Georgia
Jim Banks of Indiana
James Comer of Kentucky
Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania
Burgess Owens of Utah
Bob Good of Virginia
Lisa C. McClain of Michigan
Mary E. Miller of Illinois
Michelle Steel of California
Ron Estes of Kansas
Julia Letlow of Louisiana
Kevin Kiley of California
Aaron Bean of Florida
Eric Burlison of Missouri
Nathaniel Moran of Texas
John James of Michigan
Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon
Brandon Williams of New York
Erin Houchin of Indiana
Democrats who voted against both bills:
Bobby Scott of Virginia
Joe Courtney of Connecticut
Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of Northern Mariana Islands
Frederica Wilson of Florida
Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon
Mark Takano of California
Alma S. Adams of North Carolina
Mark DeSaulnier of California
Donald Norcross of New Jersey
Pramila Jayapal of Washington
Susan Wild of Pennsylvania
Lucy McBath of Georgia
Jahana Hayes of Connecticut
Haley M. Stevens of Michigan
Kathy E. Manning of North Carolina
Frank J. Mrvan of Indiana
Jamaal Bowman of New York
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