Republican lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at the K-12 and college levels, launching Republicans into a potentially fraught debate over a thorny social issue.
Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, introduced the “Protecting Women in Sports Act” surrounded by student-athletes, parents, school board members, an Ironman competitor and a former Olympian.
The two-bill package would require school districts and higher educational institutions to divide sports into three divisions based on sex: boys, girls and co-ed. The proposal defines “sex” as the sex assigned at birth by a physician.
The bills would prohibit people assigned at birth as “male” from participating on an athletic team or in a sport designated for people assigned at birth as “female.”
“In a fractured, well-meaning attempt at inclusion, women’s achievements have once again been put at great risk of loss,” Dittrich said. “Biological females are losing opportunities at titles, records, scholarships and even participation at times. Additionally, by ignoring the scientific biological fact that males have higher bone density, greater muscle mass and often greater height, women are being put in greater physical danger of greater injury in competition.”
Also attending in-person or online to support the proposed legislation were former Olympic speedskater Bonnie Blair Cruikshank and Airiana Lynch, a varsity lacrosse player at Arrowhead High School in Hartland. Lynch called the legislation “logical and just” for protecting biological female athletes from biological males in competition.
Also in attendance to support the legislation was Julaine Appling, executive director of Wisconsin Family Action, a conservative Christian group that over the years has campaigned against gay marriage and LGBT rights.
Appling worked closely with conservative lawmakers in 2015 to craft ultimately unsuccessful legislation to regulate transgender students’ school bathroom use.
“It’s time for this bill,” Appling said. “I would say it’s past time.”
Supporters of the legislation on Tuesday said they view the effort as a way to protect women by guaranteeing them a level playing field. They say it’s unfair for biological females to have to compete against transgender girls who may have a biological advantage.
“You can’t win against men,” said Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls. “That’s the biology, the reality. And honestly, you’ll ruin women’s sports forever. Why would you compete if you knew you couldn’t win? We want a fair playing field.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, the only state to pass a transgender athlete ban is Idaho, but the organization is tracking at least 22 bills in 17 states. Idaho’s law was suspended by a district court. Opponents fear it would discriminate against a group that already is marginalized, putting transgender youth at further risk of bullying, exclusion and increased danger.
“Legislators in several states have openly admitted that there is no problem happening in their states that needs addressing,” said Human Rights Campaign state legislative director and senior counsel Cathryn Oakley. “We know this because trans-inclusive policies have been in place for the NCAA and the Olympics for years. Lawmakers’ suggestion that student-athletes are trying to game the system for competitive advantage is nonsensical and impractical. It simply does not happen.”
Even if passed by each chamber of the Republican-controlled Legislature, the bills would be unlikely to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
LGBT lawmakers, all Democrats, were quick to denounce the legislation they said continues a trend of Republican attacks on transgender youth and children.
“This proposed legislation is cruel and discriminatory and will cause further harm to children who are already under attack for simply being themselves,” said Wisconsin’s LGBTQ Caucus in a statement. “There is no place for discrimination in our schools, and that includes organized athletics. We must welcome and champion all athletes, regardless of gender identity or expression.”
Dittrich said Evers would be a “sexist” if he doesn’t sign the legislation.
“If the governor is truly for women, why would he not sign something like this?” Dittrich said. “It is wholly unfair for a women to be competing and think she’s only competing against other females.”
In a statement, Evers said “my message to Wisconsin’s transgender kids and students today is simple: I see you. You are welcome, and you belong.”
The proposal to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports comes as more high school athletic associations have allowed transgender athletes to play on teams based on their gender identity. The NCAA has trans-inclusive guidelines for all its member schools.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has transgender guidelines passed in 2013 that are “committed to ensuring that transgender students have opportunities to participate in WIAA-sponsored athletics.”
Under such guidelines, transgender females must have one calendar year of medically documented testosterone-suppression therapy to be eligible to participate on a female team. A transgender female who has not started testosterone-suppression therapy may participate on male teams if desired by the student.
Transgender male students who have started hormone therapy, such as testosterone, are only eligible for male teams. A transgender male student who has not started hormone therapy may still participate on female teams if desired.
The day he took office, Democratic President Joe Biden signed an executive order banning discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2021 men's basketball recruits
6-1, 185, Guard
Bellevue, Neb. (West)
Hepburn was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Nebraska last season after helping Bellevue West go 21-3 and win the Class A state title. A two-time first-team all-state pick, Hepburn averaged 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 steals as a junior. Off the court, Hepburn earned the HomeSchool Papillion TeenService Award and was a Special Olympics Volunteer Award winner.
UW coach Greg Gard: “Chucky is a proven winner. Our staff watched as he led his Bellevue West team to a state championship last winter. A true point guard, Chucky brings everything we look for at that position. He leads by example, always giving maximum effort on both ends of the floor. He has tremendous vision and feel for the game, combined with the ability to score from all three levels. As much as he is able to carry his team on offense, what makes Chucky a great fit here at Wisconsin is that his defense and toughness is where he hangs his hat. A leader and role model in the community and a motivated student, Chucky is the kind of person we are excited to add to our Badger Family. We’re excited to get to work with him and to help him reach his potential as a Badger in the years to come.”
6-9, 235, Forward
Schaumburg, Ill. (HS)
Hodges, who played in the same Illinois Wolves AAU program that produced former UW standout Frank Kaminsky, was named Mid-Suburban League West Player of the Year after helping Schaumburg go 25-7 and winning the MSL title while advancing to the regional finals. He averaged 15.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game to earn second-team Class 4A all-state honors in Illinois.
Gard: “Chris is an excellent addition to our program and member of another strong recruiting class. He impressed our staff immediately during our advanced camp and has continued to improve since. Chris has tremendous potential with his large frame and natural strength, paired with an eagerness to get better. He will immediately bring both physicality and tenacity to our program. Chris fits in well with the work ethic and culture that our program has established. He comes from a great family that has clearly taught him to value hard work and education first. We are excited to welcome both Chris and his family to the Badger Family.”
6-7, 220, Forward
Yankton, S.D. (HS)
Mors is the reigning back-to-back Gatorade Player of the Year in South Dakota and has been named all-state four times during a career that began when he played on the varsity in the seventh grade. He averaged 19.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game as a junior and enters his final season as South Dakota’s Class AA all-time leading scorer with 2,127 points.
Gard: “We are very excited to add Matthew to our program. He has challenged himself as a student-athlete year in and out to become as well rounded a competitor as possible, both on and off the court. As a state champion in basketball and a successful multi-sport athlete in Yankton, Matthew has gained valuable lessons that will help him become the best leader and player possible. On the court, he plays with a certain level of toughness and physicality that fits our style of play, specifically in the Big Ten. He has a versatile skill set that will allow him to be effective in the post, off the dribble and is a terrific shooter from outside. Matthew's skillset, combined with a championship mentally, has us excited to begin working with him. We're excited for Matthew to join our Badger Family and we can't wait to begin working with him to help him reach his goals as a Badger.”