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‘Cowardly’: House Republicans revive national ban of trans women and girls from team sports

House Republicans have reintroduced federal legislation to prevent transgender women and girls from competing in sports teams that match their gender, a bill that would impose national restrictions on trans athletes of all ages as GOP lawmakers in state legislatures across the US file an onslaught of similar measures targeting trans Americans.

After similar measures were rejected in the last two Congresses, the bill received its first-ever committee hearing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on 8 March.

Democratic US Rep Pramila Jayapal, whose daughter is trans, told the House education committee that “it hurts me every single day to watch these attacks on trans youth who are simply trying to make it through life and be who they fully are.”

“I know that when my daughter came out it was not an easy process … What she continues to see around her, and from politicians, unfortunately, is a condemning of who she is,” she added.

The bill – filed for a third time by Republican US Rep Greg Steube – would amend federal civil rights laws prohibiting sex-based discrimination to define sex as “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and committee chair Virginia Foxx have signalled their support for the measure, which now has a greater chance of passage in a newly GOP-controlled House. It will likely be defeated in a Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Joe Biden would veto any such legislation that made it to his desk.

But the latest bill and widespread support among congressional Republicans follow relatively swift passage of similar anti-trans legislation in state houses across the US and alarming anti-trans rhetoric throughout the largest conference for conservative activists and elected officials.

Rebekah Bruesehoff, a transgender 16-year-old from New Jersey, said during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday that congressional Republicans’ legislation would prevent her from playing on her high school’s field hockey team.

Rebekah Bruesehoff, a transgender student athlete, speaks out against proposed federal legislation to prohibit trans women and girls from participating in school sports that align with their gender on 8 March (AFP via Getty Images)
Rebekah Bruesehoff, a transgender student athlete, speaks out against proposed federal legislation to prohibit trans women and girls from participating in school sports that align with their gender on 8 March (AFP via Getty Images)

“Sports are one of the most American experiences in any childhood. A federal sports ban would alienate me from my community, and prevent me from continuing to become a better version of myself,” she said.

“I’ve been raised and taught by my parents, coaches and teachers to be the kind of person who works actively to include people, make sure no one eats alone in the lunchroom and who stands up to bullies,” she added. “That’s what I’m doing here.”

Democratic US Rep Mark Takano, among 13 openly LGBT+ members of Congress, said the measure is “not about protecting women’s sports, it is about attacking trans kids.”

“What a cowardly thing to be doing. Cowardly,” he said.

House Republicans during the bill’s mark-up hearing, meanwhile, wholly rejected even the idea that transgender people exist, with US Rep Mary Miller falsely labelling the concept of gender identity itself as “a left-wing political ideology” while US Rep Bob Good claimed that “God does not make mistakes.”

“All of us are either immutably male or immutably female,” he said.

Within the last few years, 18 states have adopted laws prohibiting trans athletes from competing on school sports teams; preliminary injunctions have blocked enforcement of such bans in Idaho, Indiana, Utah and West Virginia.

Democratic US Rep Jahana Hayes, a former teacher, pointed to the devastating impacts that such legislation and surrounding rhetoric has taken on the mental health of an overwhelming majority of young trans and nonbinary people, according to recent polling from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult.

A separate survey from The Trevor Project found that 45 per cent of trans and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide over the last year.

Ms Hayes also noted that fewer than 2 per cent of high school students identify as trans.

“We are talking about a very small percentage ... So this hearing, this legislation, these conversations further put a target on the backs of these students who are already in the scariest times of their lives,” Ms Hayes said. “To pretend they don’t exist, or to promote policies meant to set them aside, is just wrong.”

In his first year in office, President Biden signed an executive order that expanded federal antidiscrimination protections to include discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Last year, the US Department of Education proposed changes to Title IX provisions to “make clear that preventing someone from participating in school programs and activities consistent with their gender identity would cause harm in violation” of the landmark federal civil rights law for students.

Ms Foxx, the House education committee’s chair, accused the Biden administration of “perverting” Title IX with a “radical rewrite” that “denies equal opportunity to women.”

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement with the Congressional Equality Caucus condemning the bill that “prohibiting trans women and girls from playing sports is not only discrimination, it steers us further from Title IX’s promise.”

“We have been fighting for Title IX protections for over [50] years and are unequivocally clear that discriminating against transgender and intersex women and girls threatens opportunities for all of us,” she added.

A letter from the National Women’s Law Center and the Women’s Sports Foundation to the committee, co-signed by more than a dozen women’s advocacy and LGBT+ organisations, said the “blanket, discriminatory exclusion that [the bill] would mandate for every age, every sport, and every level of competition flies in the face of Title IX’s mandate of equal access to educational opportunities.”