House Republicans on Thursday passed a bill that seeks to prohibit transgender women and girls from participating in female athletic programs, moving to the national stage an issue that has thus far mainly played out in state legislatures and individual sports associations.
The legislation — titled the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act and sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) — passed in a party-line 219-203 vote. It is the first standalone bill to restrict the rights of transgender people considered in the House.
The Democratic-controlled Senate, however, is unlikely to take up the measure, and the White House has issued a veto threat.
The bill, which failed to advance during the last three Congresses, would amend Title IX — the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education — to recognize sex as that which is “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
It specifically calls for prohibiting recipients of federal financial assistance that operate athletic activities from allowing transgender women and girls from participating on female sports teams.
It would not, however, block transgender women and girls from training or practicing with female athletic programs “so long as no female is deprived of a roster spot on a team or sport, opportunity to participate in a practice or competition, scholarship, admission to an educational institution” or other benefits.
“This is about protecting women’s sports now and into the future,” House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the highest-ranking Republican woman in the chamber, said at a press conference ahead of the vote Thursday.
“Biological women and girls should only be competing against other biological women and girls,” Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) said. “And I don’t care how many surgeries you have, I don’t care how many chemicals you put into your body. You’re not going to be a biological woman.”
The Biden administration announced on Monday the president would veto the bill if it landed on his desk, arguing it discriminates against children.
The administration earlier this month in a set of proposed changes to Title IX criticized policies that broadly ban transgender athletes from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
The Education Department’s proposal, which has yet to undergo a period of public comment, would not prohibit transgender athlete bans in their entirety, however, and local school districts will still be able to enact policies that limit athletic participation based on a set of sex-related eligibility criteria if the rule is finalized into law.
An additional proposal released by the Biden administration in June would amend the definition of sex discrimination in Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
At least 21 states since 2020 have enacted laws or policies that prevent transgender athletes from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, and more than 40 such bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
During Thursday’s press conference, Stefanik called the legislation “a winning issue across America, standing up for the future of women and girls.”
Democrats have pushed back against arguments that the bill intends to make sports safer and more equitable for women and young girls.
“Don’t believe for a minute that this is about protecting women and girls, because if Republicans cared about that they would not be voting against equal pay, against paid sick leave, against universal childcare. The way that this bill targets children in the name of gender equality is insulting,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said during a debate on Wednesday.
Jayapal, one of the co-chairs of the House Equality Caucus and the mother of a transgender daughter, questioned how the proposed law would be enforced and how a child’s “reproductive biology” could be verified in a noninvasive manner.
“If a young girl—if your daughter—doesn’t look feminine enough, is she subject to an examination?” she said.
Jayapal last month re-introduced the Trans Bill of Rights, a sweeping resolution meant to strengthen civil rights protections for transgender and nonbinary Americans.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the Equality Caucus and one of just 13 openly LGBTQ members of Congress, similarly argued on Wednesday that the measure would open the door to unnecessary and intrusive investigations into female athletes.
He cited an investigation in Utah over the summer, where the gender of a young cisgender female athlete was called into question after she placed first in a competition “by a wide margin.”
LGBTQ rights groups have broadly condemned the measure, which they say discriminates against transgender people. The legislation has also been rejected by women’s rights organizations including the National Women’s Law Center and Women’s Sports Foundation.
A coalition of professional, Olympic and Paralympic female athletes in a letter to Congress this month urged lawmakers to vote against the bill and turn their attention to “causes women athletes have been fighting for decades,” like equal pay and an end to abuse and mistreatment.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) the chair of the House Education Committee and one the bill’s 93 GOP co-sponsors, during a legislative hearing on Monday refused to acknowledge the existence of transgender women.
“They’re males, sorry,” she said. Foxx on Monday added that she does not “know what a trans girl is” and argued that it is impossible for a person to live as a sex that is different from their sex assigned at birth.
House Republicans this week similarly denied the existence of transgender identities by repeatedly referring to transgender women as “biological males,” a term condemned by LGBTQ rights groups for its implication that transgender women are lying about their identity.