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Wisconsin Republicans push to bar transgender athletes from playing women's sports

Wisconsin Republicans push to bar transgender athletes from playing women's sports

WIAA state girls basketball photo: Verona fans fill the stands at Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh (copy)

Fans cheer at the WIAA state girls' basketball tournament in Oshkosh last week. Under a set of bills proposed by Republican lawmakers Tuesday, transgender athletes would be barred from participating in girls' sports in public high schools.

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Two new Republican bills aim to prevent transgender student athletes from participating in girls' or women's sports from elementary school through college in Wisconsin.

The legislation, which would essentially seek to prohibit schools from allowing students join teams that don't correspond to their biological sex as assigned by a doctor at birth unless the sport is classified as "coed," would apply to public K-12 schools, independent charters, private choice institutions, the University of Wisconsin System and technical colleges.

Rep. Barb Dittrich, the lead Assembly author of the measures, said they would bolster fairness for women and girls in athletics and support Title IX, a decades-old federal law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex at any institution that receives federal aid.

"Now in a fractured, well meaning attempt at inclusion, women's achievements have once again been put at great risk of loss," the Oconomowoc Republican said at a Capitol news conference Tuesday. "Biological females are losing opportunities at titles, records, scholarships and even participation at times." 

The bills, if they do pass the Republican-controlled Legislature, are likely to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. But transgender advocates say the introduction of the measures is still damaging to transgender youth across the state.

Fair Wisconsin executive director Megin McDonell, the parent of a transgender teen, described the push as "harmful" and "hurtful" and said she had been bracing for the potential announcement of such bills after seeing similar ones unveiled in other states.

"It sends a really harmful message that we even have to have these conversations, and it makes, I think, kids feel like their identities aren't legitimate or real or valued," she said.

According to the ACLU, two dozen states have introduced legislation to prohibit transgender athletes from participating in school sports as of last month.

Dittrich suggested the only reason Evers wouldn't sign the bills into law, if they reach his desk, is because he's sexist.

“I think if the governor really cares about women, he absolutely should advance this legislation and there should be no reason why it doesn’t go anywhere, unless he’s a sexist," she said.

Evers wrote in a tweet, "My message to Wisconsin's transgender kids and students today is simple: I see you. You are welcome, you are wanted, and you belong."

The bills would require schools to designate teams or sports as one of three categories, based on the sex of the individual assigned at birth: participants who are males, men or boys; participants who are female, women or girls; and participants of "both sexes" or "coed."

Any plans to change the designation of a sport or team must provide written notice to parents and/or students who are eligible to play under both bills.

Brian Juchems, the co-executive director of GSAFE, which advocates for LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin, said transgender athletes "should be able to participate in the way that they identify” rather than based on someone else’s assumptions about them.

"Trans girls are girls. Trans boys are boys," Juchems added. "The important thing is that people should have the right to play in a way that aligns with their gender identity."

In addition to the three categories the bills would create, the language also explicitly prohibits male students from participating in a sport or on a team designated for females, women or girls.

Airiana Lynch, a sophomore girls lacrosse player at Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland who also spoke at Tuesday's news conference, stressed the legislation isn't "an act of discrimination against transgender athletes" and would instead acknowledge the "distinct chromosomal, hormonal and physical factors that separate a male from a female."

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and NCAA have different rules in place regarding transgender athlete participation. For the NCAA, trans female athletes must have undergone at least one year of hormone treatment to be able to participate on a women's team, while trans male athletes who aren't taking testosterone may participate on either a men's or women's team.

Nationally, Idaho is the only state that's enacted a law barring transgender athletes from female sports, though it's currently facing a legal challenge. A federal judge last fall temporarily blocked the law, which was then appealed, with oral arguments expected in late spring, according to Boise State Public Radio.

Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit in Connecticut challenging a 2013 state policy that lets transgender student athletes join sports based on their gender identity is still making its way through the courts. President Joe Biden's administration withdrew the federal government's support from the suit last month. 

Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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