The Pa. House of Representatives passed House Bill 972, also known as the “Protect Women’s Sports Act,” with a 115-84 vote on April 12. The bill seeks to restrict trans girls and women from participating in scholastic and collegiate girls and women’s sports teams, as well as allow students who are “deprived of an athletic opportunity or who suffers a direct or indirect harm as a result of a known violation” to bring causes of action for injunctive relief and other relief against the school involved. The vote was largely along party lines, with one Republican voting against the bill and four Democrats voting for the bill. The bill now heads to the state Senate.
“It is an incredibly dangerous time to be a young person unsupported by their family,” Rep. Emily Kincaid (D-Allegheny) said moments before the vote was taken. “And sports can be a way to find a new family that will support you. And fundamentally, this bill is not about protecting women’s sports and girl’s sports. This is about denying access to a potentially life saving support system that our most vulnerable youth need access to.”
Kincaid also spoke about how her participation in school sports served as a lifeline that helped her cope with childhood abuse, and about how the teacher who encouraged her to participate was “one of the first people that ever saw the need that I had, to be supported and protected by an adult. And I’m not sure that he actually understood what exactly was going on at home, but I do know that if it were not for him, if it were not for this cross country team, that there’s a real possibility that I will not be here today. And this is an issue that our trans youth deal with all the time, to not be supported, to be afraid to tell their truth to people, to have the adults in their lives be the ones that are attacking them.”
Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) said before the vote that “there are only three openly LGBTQ members of this body. And only the three of us understand how scary it is to tell your family to tell your community that you are gay, or you are bisexual, or you are a lesbian. But even the three of us do not know how scary it is to tell your family that you are trans or nonbinary, to say that in your community, to say that in your school. None of you in this building understand the bravery or the courage that these little kids have to be who they are, in a world where adults are using them for fundraising emails or whatever the heck else you’re gonna do when this vote is done.” The other two LGBTQ members of the House are State Reps Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Jessica Benham (D-Allegheny).
Later in his remarks, Kenyatta called HB 972 a “pro-death” bill — referring to the rates in which LGBTQ youth, and particularly transgender youth, attempt and commit suicide.
Rep. Anita Kulik (D-Kennedy) spoke about how the legislation forces mandates on organizations, including the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, that should be allowed to address the issue themselves. Other Democratic Representatives have expressed similar views in the weeks leading up to the vote. Kulik also noted that the potential lawsuits that could arise should the bill be signed into law would put further strains on the court system.
Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) one of the sponsors of the bill, said in her remarks that “science, and common sense, tells us that biological males are bigger, faster and stronger than females. They have larger hearts and lungs, denser bones, stronger muscles and generate more force in athletics. These are all advantages that cannot be undone.” White also said “this legislation has support from the LGBTQ community. The Log Cabin Republicans in Philadelphia have shown support for this legislation.”
The bill now proceeds to the state Senate. A source in the state Senate told PGN that it is unlikely there will be enough time for a Senate vote before the May Primary. Should the Senate approve the bill, Governor Wolf has pledged to veto it when it reaches his desk. 14 states currently have restrictions on trans girls participating in girls sports in school.
“[HB 972] is not about fairness; it’s about exclusion. It is an attempt to even further isolate trans youth in Pennsylvania – a group that already faces disproportionate risk of bullying and suicide,” Sam Ames (they/them pronouns), Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a press release. “Bills like this one aren’t just cruel and unnecessary; the rhetoric surrounding them is causing real harm. 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates about anti-transgender laws have negatively impacted their mental health. We urge Pennsylvania lawmakers to stop targeting trans youth and focus on efforts to ensure that all young people in the state have the same opportunities to thrive.”
If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Rep. Martina White as being a member of the Democratic party. Rep. Martina White is a member of the Republican party.