A group of Republican senators have introduced a bill that would make it a violation of federal civil rights law for schools to allow transgender females to compete in girls sports.
Under the proposed “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” schools that allow “biological males” to compete in girls athletics could lose federal funding, according to a statement Tuesday by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., the bill’s lead sponsor.
“Title IX established a fair and equal chance for women and girls to compete, and sports should be no exception,” Loeffler stated, referring to the section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.
“As someone who learned invaluable life lessons and built confidence playing sports throughout my life, I’m proud to lead this legislation to ensure girls of all ages can enjoy those same opportunities,” Loeffler continued. “This commonsense bill protects women and girls by safeguarding fairness and leveling the athletic field that Title IX guarantees.”
The measure is co-sponsored by four other Republican senators: Mike Lee of Utah, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“Men and women are biologically different, that’s just a scientific fact,” Lee said in a statement. “For the safety of female athletes and for the integrity of women’s sports, we must honor those differences on a fair field of competition.”
Cotton, whose name appeared on a Supreme Court shortlist released by President Donald Trump before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last eweek, said the bill would “defend the commonsense principle that women’s sports are for women.” He called it “tragic but unsurprising” that such legislation was needed.
If passed, the act would force schools to recognizes sex based “solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Loeffler did not indicate how the legislation would impact intersex students.
Dawn Ennis, a transgender woman and managing editor of OutSports, said Loeffler and her colleagues are simply pandering in an election year.
“They think there are so few, or no trans athletes in their states, and this is just shoring up support,” Ennis said. “They’ll get re-elected, no doubt. But this is just chum being thrown at the sharks.”
Of the bill's five co-sponsors, Cotton is the only one up for re-election in November; Loeffler was appointed to the Senate in January and is on the ballot for a full term.
After waning interest in so-called bathroom bills, conservatives have embraced issues surrounding transgender athletes as a new flashpoint.
“These groups don’t care about sports or women’s rights,” ACLU transgender rights advocate Chase Strangio said in a statement. “They’re opportunistically looking for ways to attack trans people, and in the process, hurting all women and girls.”
In February, the families of three female high-school runners in Connecticut filed suit to block two trans sprinters from competing in track and field. They argued athletes assigned male at birth have an unfair physical advantage.
“That biological unfairness doesn't go away because of what someone believes about gender identity," said Alanna Smith, a junior at Danbury High School who is the daughter of Hall of Fame pitcher Lee Smith and one of the three runners suing. “All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, which is representing the families, said the districts’ inclusive policy is “forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports” and runs counter to the intent of Title IX, the federal civil rights law guaranteeing equal educational opportunities for women, including in athletics.
"Connecticut’s policy violates that law and reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women,” Holcomb said.
Ennis said she asked the ADF why they hadn’t filed suit against transgender boys competing in men’s sports.
“They told me they didn’t have a problem with ‘girls who identify as male,’” Ennis told NBC News, “They saw this specifically as a danger of endangering [cisgender] girls.”
Last week, the Department of Education told Connecticut schools they’d lose desegregation funding if they continued allowing transgender girls to compete in women’s sports.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights told school districts in New Haven, Hartford and southeast Connecticut that it would withhold some $18 million due to be disbursed Oct. 1 if they didn’t sever ties with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which allows students to participate in sex-segregated sports that align with their gender identity.
According to a letter from the office obtained by The Associated Press, the conference’s policy has “denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities” including medals, recognition and access to college scholarships.
The grants at stake are predominately used to help Black and Latino students attend better-performing schools outside their neighborhoods, and have nothing to do with athletics programs.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker called the threat “extortion.”
“The federal government is trying to force us to take a side against transgender individuals,” Elicker told The New York Times.
In July, more than 300 women involved in professional sports signed an open letter by members of “Save Women’s Sports” to the NCAA’s Board of Governors, opposing transgender inclusion in college sports.
The signatories included lesbian tennis legend Martina Navratilova, Outsports reported.
And earlier this month, a video decrying trans participation in school sports was launched by the American Principles Project, of APP.
The spot depicted a male runner easily beating female competitors in a race. It also attacked support by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. for the Equality Act, LGBTQ rights legislation the clip claimed would “destroy girls sports.”
It was rejected as paid advertising on Facebook, which indicated if the APP ran the video organically a fact-check label would be added.
“Women’s sports are under severe threat in 2020. Despite the radical Left’s attempts at gaslighting, this is indisputable,” APP Director Terry Schilling said Tuesday in praise of Loeffler’s bill.
“While President Trump and his administration have taken important steps to defend women’s sports, female athletes have also been searching for a leader in Congress to stand up for them,” Schiller continued. “Today, Sen. Kelly Loeffler has courageously stepped forward to be that leader.”
Should the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act pass, it would undoubtedly face legal challenges.
A preliminary injunction was issued last month stopping Idaho schools from enforcing a state law that banned transgender girls from participating in women’s sports.
The Idaho measure contains a provision allowing anyone to challenge a person’s gender identity and requires an athlete to verify their sex through an invasive physical exam or genetic testing.
A District Court judge ruled the injunction was warranted because the plaintiffs were likely to win a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality.
In December, Tennessee state Rep. Bruce Griffey, a Republican, sponsored a bill that would fine school officials up to $10,000 for allowing transgender students to participate in sports as their lived gender. That measure has not gone up for a vote yet.
In June, the Supreme Court determined that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars employment discrimination on the basis of sex, applied to gender identity and sexual orientation, as well. Whether that ruling applies to Title IX and school athletics is open to interpretation.
Connecticut is one of 17 states that allow transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions, according to Transathlete.com, although regulations regarding gender identity and sports participation vary greatly in other states.