The Republican’s harmful campaign against transgender girls and women reaches a crescendo this week as the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote Thursday on the so-called Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023 (H.R. 734). This misleadingly named bill would prohibit public school athletic programs from allowing individuals whose biological sex at birth was listed as male to participate in programs that are for girls and young women. Or, as the legislation specifies, “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs or activities. The Republican bill would make it a violation of Title IX for federally funded education programs or activities to operate, sponsor, or facilitate athletic programs or activities that allow individuals of the male sex to participate in programs or activities that are designated for women or girls. Needless to say, H.R. 734 is a perversion of Title IX.
The intent of H.R. 734 is not to expand opportunities for girls and young women in athletic programs but to deny transgender, intersex, and nonbinary students their right under Title IX to equal athletic opportunities. Stoking public emotion for the support of such legislation through right-wing media outlets, far-right politicians have been able to convince some that the presence of transgender girls and young women in athletics programs provides an unfair advantage. If H.R. 734 passes the House, it is unlikely that the Democratic controlled Senate will take it up.
Typical of the GOP’s inflammatory issues, the bill addresses a situation that does not constitute a problem that needs addressing by a federal law. The presence of transgender girls and young women in public school athletic competitions is so small that it is difficult to measure. But that does not mean that transgender girls and young women should not be assured equal opportunity to participate in school athletic programs. (Note: Republicans are not targeting transgender boys or young men.) What little data exists shows that transgender girls and young women do not always demonstrate a physical advantage over their non-transgender team members in athletic competitions.
State Anti-Transgender Legislation
The current wave of targeted attacks from Republican politicians towards a community of 300,000 transgender children is not by accident. Their deliberate rhetoric stokes public fear and confusion and has created a hostile environment for the transgender community; there are an estimated 1.3 million transgender adults in the U.S. The legalization of same sex marriage in 2015 put an end to the far-right campaign against LGBTQIA persons and the GOP has since scrambled to find a new one that that could win conservative votes by stoking fear. Republican Governors and state legislators around the country have been pushing a range of anti-transgender bills, such as preventing the use of names and pronouns that reflect the gender identity of a transperson, prohibiting access to gender-affirming medical care – even up to age 26, and banning transgender individuals from athletics programs, among other cruel measures.
The effort to vilify transgender individuals is centered primarily in Republican-controlled states where lawmakers have introduced an astounding total of 408 bills this year — all with the intention of restricting the rights of transgender persons and denying them equal educational opportunities. They have had some successes with these dreadful initiatives: in 2022, about 156 bills were introduced in the various states with 26 being passed and signed into law. To date in 2023, 29 bills have been adopted and signed into law. The acceleration this year of hate speech and restrictive legislation will have far-reaching consequences for the transgender community. Facing significant challenges in accessing basic rights such as healthcare, employment, and housing, this community is now confronting the loss of the few legal protections that had previously been recognized.
A focus in this wave of anti-trans legislation is a prohibition of legal recognition of gender identity on birth certificates of transgender persons, instead mandating that certificates retain the sex identified at birth. Most harmful are bills that prohibit gender-affirming healthcare, which is critically important for the emotional and mental health of transgender persons. For instance, Oklahoma’s SB129 proposes extending gender-affirming care bans to adults up to 26 years old. This bill would make it a felony charge for physicians to provide care, resulting in the loss of their medical license if found guilty. Provision of this medical care is supported by every major medical association. Similarly, Wyoming’s SF0111 seeks to classify gender-affirming care as child abuse!
Anti-transgender bills frequently target schools, often in the guise of “parental rights.” In 2022, bills such as Florida’s H1557, known as “Don’t Say Gay or Trans,” made headlines for restricting the expression of LGBTQ+ teachers and students. In 2023, such bills continue with proposals like Arizona’s HB1700, which encourages parents to report and ban books that “promote gender fluidity or gender pronouns,” or Arizona’s SB1001, which mandates approval of a student’s pronouns by both a guardian and teacher.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination based on sex applies to transgender persons by protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of state or local laws. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is also protective of their rights in school. Despite these protections, the rhetoric, and the media coverage of the GOP’s anti-transgender legislation rings loud, the transgender community has already seen an impact. Compared to the cisgendered student body, the transgender community suffers from the tragedy of one in four individuals attempting suicide and up to 70% of youth facing higher levels of anxiety, isolation, and depression. Tragically, the danger of this rhetoric is documented. In 2021, 59 transgender individuals were murdered, in 2022, 38 more were killed by a gun or murdered by other violent means.
It is crucial to raise awareness about the harmful impact of such bills and advocate for policies that affirm the rights of transgender people. According to PEW Research, 64% of the American voting population believes legal protections for transgender individuals has not gone far enough. Lacking the support of the American people, the far-right policies being passed perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misinformation about transgender people, portraying them as a threat to society or promoting the false narrative that being transgender is a choice. This not only harms the mental health and well-being of transgender individuals but also contributes to a hostile environment that leads to violence and discrimination.
National Campaign Director for the Human Rights Campaign, Geoff Wetrosky, summed it up, “Their vile, anti-trans rhetoric does not resonate with a majority of Americans who are interested in solutions, not slander. But that does not mean their transphobic hate and propaganda won’t cause harm. Their words rile up far-right extremists resulting in more stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people. The rights and very existence of trans people is not up for debate. We will keep fighting back until we are all treated equally, with dignity and respect.”
Many of these bills seek to limit access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, criminalize gender-affirming care for minors, or ban transgender athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. Such legislation is not only discriminatory but also goes against established medical and legal standards for transgender care.
It is important to recognize that anti-trans legislation is not just a transgender issue, but a feminist issue as well. As feminists, we must recognize that the fight for gender equality includes the struggle for the rights and dignity of transgender people. By denying transgender people their basic rights, we are perpetuating the same patriarchal structures that have oppressed women for centuries.
To combat this alarming trend, we must raise awareness about the harmful impact of anti-trans legislation and call on lawmakers to reject such bills. We must also support organizations that provide legal and advocacy services to transgender individuals, as well as advocate for policies that affirm the rights of transgender people.
Genevieve Thompson, NOW Government Relations Intern