Iowa House bill would halt transgender girls in girls sports

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa House Republicans on Monday approved a bill that prohibits transgender girls from participating in girls sports, moving the direction of about 10 other Republican-run state legislatures in passing the controversial measure.

Opponents say the measure is state-sanctioned bullying of transgender children while supporters say it’s the only way to protect girls from being dominated in sports competition by males who identify as females.

The Iowa Senate has not yet voted on its slightly different version of the measure.

“We have to protect girls sports in our schools,” said Rep. Skyler Wheeler, a Republican from Orange City. “This bill is not about discrimination this bill is about protection. Girls should not be sidelined in their own sports.”

Democratic Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City said banning transgender girls and women from participating in girls or womens sports is clearly discriminatory.

“This bill sends a terrible message to our young people and all transgender girls and women in this state. It is state sanctioned bullying,” she said,

The bill which passed 55-39 along party lines requires students participating in interscholastic sports sponsored or sanctioned by an accredited nonpublic school or a public school district to play only with others that match the gender listed on their birth certificate. It also has provisions to allow civil lawsuits to uphold the intent of the law. An amendment added during debate extended the bill from primary school grades into state universities and colleges.

Gov. Kim Reynolds last year lobbied lawmakers to pass a similar measure but it failed to advance. She continues to support the idea.

“I believe its a fairness issue. If we don’t do anything it does eliminate girls sports,” she said at a press conference last week.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell of Ames said business owners are having difficulty attracting workers from outside Iowa because of such measures.

“This bill and others like it are how you create a long-term workforce shortage in Iowa,” she said. A shortage of workers to fill Iowa jobs has been identified by Reynolds and GOP legislative leaders as one of the state’s biggest problems.

Lobbyists for school boards, school administrators and teachers said the bill puts educators and school administrators in an untenable position of following federal law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in sports activities or the new state law.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said in its review of the bill that Iowa could risk losing federal funding if the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights determines the state is violating federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender.

Other states with similar laws include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, all passed last year. Enforcement of a 2020 Idaho law is on hold after a federal judge ruled it is likely to be found unconstitutional and a judge in West Virginia last July issued an order allowing an 11-year-old transgender girl to participate in girls cross country saying the state’s law passed last year unfairly would have violated her constitutional rights and a federal law that guarantees equal treatment of men and women in education and sports programs.