Pa. House committee advances bill excluding trans athletes from women’s sports

State Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, speaks at the House Education Committee Meeting on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.

By Cassie Miller

The Pennsylvania House Education Committee voted Tuesday to move a bill that would exclude transgender athletes from competing on women’s sports team in the commonwealth. 

HB 972, also known as the “Protect Women’s Sports Act,” would bar transgender athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities. It passed through the committee Tuesday morning in a 15-9 vote

The bill was first introduced last April by state Rep. Barbara Gleim (R-Cumberland). Gleim was joined on the bill by Reps. Martina White (R-Philadelphia); Dawn Keefer (R-York); Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny); and Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton).

Speaking to the committee, Gleim said the bill to exclude transgender athletes “preserves fairness for all women.”

“Identities don’t play sports, bodies do,” Gleim said, repeatedly misgendering University of Pennsylvania swimmer and Division I national champion Lia Thomas in her testimony.

The panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Mark Longietti, of Mercer County, questioned whether the decision would be better left up to the governing bodies of high school and collegiate sports in the commonwealth – the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 

“Let’s not become the school sports eligibility committee,” Longietti said.

Rep. Mary Louise Isaacson (D-Philadelphia), echoed Longietti’s comments about the committee’s role in the decision: “There are governing bodies over high school and collegiate sports. We are not one of them,” she said. 

Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D-Montgomery) said that he was “dumbfounded” that the committee was considering advancing the bill after a September 2021 hearing suggested that this bill “is not yet ready.”  

The General Assembly’s LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus called the bill “dangerous,” in a statement following the vote. 

“Once again, the majority party is wasting taxpayer money by bringing up divisive and hateful legislation that pushes a harmful narrative instead of addressing legislation that could help expand educational resources and protections for all students,” state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks), co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Caucus said. “This bill is an ignorant attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. If the majority’s intent is to give women a level playing field, we should address the inequities in funding, resources, media coverage and pay in women’s sports.”

Naiymah Sanchez, trans rights organizer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said she is concerned about the harmful effects exclusion from school sports would have on transgender youth. 

“School activities like sports give trans kids a feeling of belonging and inclusion,” Sanchez said. “Like cisgender students, trans students benefit academically and emotionally from participation in sports. It is despicable that some state reps are pursuing a public policy of exclusion and isolation.”

Citing Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s now-overridden decision last week to veto a similar ban on transgender athletes, state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) said laws excluding transgender athletes are “harmful and discriminatory.”

“It’s unconscionable that Republicans in the House Education Committee even brought this bill up for a vote, considering this harmful and discriminatory legislation is a direct attack on transgender and gender-nonconforming youth across the state,” Frankel, who founded and co-chairs the LGBTQ+ Caucus, said. 

“Even Republican governors are now vetoing these bills because they are cruel and unnecessary,” Frankel continued “While our Democratic governor surely will do the same, that doesn’t change the fact that transgender youth in our commonwealth are being unfairly targeted. We stand with all LGBTQ+ residents, and we will always do what we can to protect them.”

Eleven states now have laws barring transgender athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities. 

Cassie Miller is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.