Ban on transgender athletes participating in girls sports advances

DES MOINES — A bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing in girls sports in Iowa has cleared a House subcommittee after a nearly hour-long public hearing.

Poppy Malone of Boone, a 7th grader in Ames Middle School. testified in favor of the bill. “I’ve wrestled males before and I know what it’s like. If you don’t want to wrestle boys, but a transgender female comes in and wrestles you, you’re probably going to get beat,” Malone says. “….Girls wrestle girls for a reason. Wrestling just got sanctioned and I’m not going to let males come in and ruin the sport for us.” Malone recently pinned an opponent just 27 seconds into a match at Woodward Granger High School.

Trans athlete Gavy Smith of Decorah testified against the bill. She told legislators she participates in volleyball, bowling and track and field,    “Through my transition, the best thing to look forward to at the end of the day are those sports. They help me make new friendships and keep the old ones,” Smith said. “…If I were told I couldn’t play the sports that I want to and for the gender that I identify as, I would feel less about myself, like I am being forced to feel different about who I am.”

Ainsley Erzen of Carlisle won the 800-meter race at the girl’s state track meet last year and will attend the University of Arkansas next year on an athletic scholarship. She favors the legislation.  “I refuse to live in a world where little girls like my sisters have records, titles and scholarships robbed from them  by biologically male individuals, a world where they can’t even feel safe in their own locker rooms because we’ve allowed them to be hijacked by men on the basis of their feelings,” she said. “At the end of the day, we compete with our bodies, not our self-proclaimed identities.”

A lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards told lawmakers the bill would force school officials to choose between following state law or federal guidelines that prohibit discrimination in sports based on gender identity.

Dr. Katherine Imboric, co-director of the LGBTQ Clinic at the University of Iowa, told lawmakers sports are an antidote to the challenges trans gender students face.   “Sports are amazingly helpful. They decrease rates of obesity. They increase rates of depression and anxiety. They decrease rates of thoughts of suicide,” she said. “They increase school connectedness and feelings of belonging.”

Republican lawmakers in at least 10 states have passed laws prohibiting trans athletes from participating in girls sports. In late April, Republican Governor Reynolds called on legislators to pass a bill banning trans girls and women from competing in school sports that match their gender identity. The two Republican lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill to accomplish that goal voted to advance it out of a House subcommittee today. The bill is likely to be considered in a full House Committee next week.