A proposed ban on transgender athletes playing female school sports in Utah would affect transgender girls like this 12-year-old swimmer seen at a pool in Utah on Feb. 22, 2021. She and her family spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to avoid outing her publicly.
Sam Dunklau is the Capitol Bureau Chief for WITF. He previously covered Illinois state government for NPR member station WUIS in Springfield, IL.
Since 2015, Sam has been floating around the radio airwaves as a reporter, disc jockey, and station manager. He grew up in the small midwestern town of Paw Paw, Illinois and is a proud graduate of Augustana College.
(Harrisburg) — Though it was introduced back in April, a bill in the state legislature that would ban transgender girls at public schools from playing female sports hasn’t gone anywhere but the House Education committee.
It probably won’t leave there anytime soon, but the underlying issue is getting lawmakers’ attention anyway.
At a hearing in Harrisburg Wednesday, lawmakers on that committee heard from medical experts, advocates and students themselves on what a sex-based ban could mean for transgender athletes and the sports they play.
“We can’t avoid those difficult subjects,” committee chair Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie) said. “We have to be able to talk about them, and the only way that we’re going to create good policy is to better understand it.”
“For me and other cisgendered girls, we don’t lose anything by playing with or against girls who might be different from us.” — Sophia Tellis
Sophia Tellis is an incoming high school sophomore and soccer player at Dallas High School in northeastern Pennsylvania. She told House lawmakers that policy is fine for cisgendered people like her, whose sex assigned at birth matches their gender.
But for transgender students, that’s not the case. Under those same rules, Tellis said those kids would be sidelined over what she calls a non-issue.
“If we win or lose, it’s because of our skill as players, not whether we’re trans or cis. The issue here is inclusion, female rights,” Tellis said.
“For me and other cisgendered girls, we don’t lose anything by playing with or against girls who might be different from us. But if trans girls are banned they lose playing the sport they love, they lose their teammates, and they lose another chance to be a normal kid.”
Some people who testified at the House panel pointed to the International Federation of Sports Medicine, which says there isn’t enough research out there to “adequately inform policy” on who should get to play in certain sports classes.
In a paper authored in March, IFSM researchers said that based on what is known, differences in athletic performance are often driven by a person’s genetic traits — like height.
“Ultimately, even the most evidence-based policies will not eliminate differences in sporting performance between athletes in the elite category of female sports. However, any advantage held by a person belonging to an athlete in this category could be considered part of the athlete’s unique individuality,” they wrote.
Though most studies have focused on athletic performance in transgender and cisgendered adults, hardly any have focused on kids. But Dr. Gerald Montano, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told lawmakers that in his own work with transgender and gender diverse children, he’s come to a similar conclusion.
“There are variations on certain athletes,” Montano said. “Just because someone may be a transgender girl, they may be just as comparable in size and ability to girls because of those variations.”
Advocates like Naiymah Sanchez of the ACLU of Pennsylvania said lawmakers should instead approve more comprehensive legal protections for transgender and gender diverse people.
“There’s this perception that … LGBT people are people are protected under sex discrimination [laws], but as we saw right here in this hearing, they [lawmakers] don’t understand that sex discrimination includes gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation,” Sanchez said.
Pa. Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Capitol attack As part of WITF’s commitment to standing with facts, and because the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to overthrow representative democracy in America, we are marking elected officials’ connections to the insurrection. Read more about this commitment.
Rep. Sonney (R-Erie) is one of several dozen state lawmakers who signed a letter asking members of Congress to object to Pennsylvania’s legal electoral votes for President Biden, despite no significant evidence of voter fraud
This supported the election-fraud lie, which led to the attack on the Capitol.