Iowa Senate Republicans passed HF 2416 on Wednesday, a bill that bans transgender girls from playing school-sponsored sports entirely.
The measure passed along party lines, 31-17, and will more than likely be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The main argument Republicans used is that they want to protect girls’ sports and Title IX victories. Another argument is that if transgender girls were to participate, cisgender girls would never be able to win against them.
None of those arguments have strong evidence to back them up, though the issue is complicated and still being studied. What has been proven is that when trans children are barred from living freely as the gender they identify with, their rates of suicide, or suicide attempts, go up.
Many Senate Democrats took the floor to oppose the bill. They explained how it would harm Iowa trans students—who are impacted whenever debates such as this happen—and why the legislation is unnecessary because every child has a different body type that affects their athletic performance. Democrats also said this debate has come up because of outlets such as Fox News, not complaints from Iowans.
“To be sure there are legitimate concerns on both sides of the issue about fairness in athletics, and reasonable people can disagree about how we draw those lines around participation,” said Sen. Zach Wahls (D-Coralville). “But the bill that we are debating today is not a reasonable conversation about where to draw those lines. This bill is a political wedge being used to divide us and it does not have to be this way.”
The national push to ban transgender girls from school sports has been going on for years. Ten other states in the US have similar bans with South Dakota’s February passage being the most recent case.
This legislation was floated during session last year, but it faded until Gov. Kim Reynolds mentioned on Fox News that she’d readily sign a law like this.
These laws are being passed despite no evidence of a problem. In Iowa, some trans girls do participate in sports, and they work it out on an individual, local basis with their school’s athletic departments and statewide organizations such as the Iowa High School Athletics Association.
“The International Olympic Committee and every other major sports organization on the planet has found a way to embrace transgender athlete participation in a way that ensures fair competition and doesn’t do this cruel, divisive and dehumanizing thing that this body may do today,” said Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines).
It doesn’t have strong backing from science either.
“This bill relies on overbroad stereotypes about trans girls’ and women’s bodies,” said Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque). “Well, athletes’ bodies are different. And these differences can be both advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on the sport. Similarly, trans girl athletes do not have a single body type, and they do not automatically have advantages over a cisgender athlete.”
Some senators said passing this bill into law could open Iowa to federal lawsuits.
“This bill would force schools to violate both the U.S. Constitution and both Title VII and Title IX,” said Sen. Claire Celsi (D-Des Moines). “The Iowa Association of School Boards told us directly and clearly in our subcommittee that this bill will force schools to choose between state law and federal law. There will be lawsuits, and Iowa taxpayers will be on the hook for the costs and payouts for going against federal law.”
Federal laws such as Title IX and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibit discrimination based on sex, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that includes discrimination against transgender (and other LGBTQ) Americans. The US Department of Education last year ruled that Title IX protects trans athletes.
The Legislative Services Agency noted the bill’s potential fiscal costs.
“House File 2416 may have a fiscal impact related to increased future exposure to litigation to the State of Iowa; however, the number of claims is unknown,” the report reads. “Fiscal impacts may include financial responsibility, as described in the Bill, and the potential for additional costs related to required legal representation that is to be provided by the Attorney General. Attorney General costs would be dependent on the number of lawsuits filed.”
In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden condemned laws that ban trans girls from sports or try to block them from life-saving health care that helps them feel more comfortable with their bodies by delaying puberty.
“The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong,” Biden said. “As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”
Biden also reiterated the need to pass the Equality Act, which would give LGBTQ Americans explicit federal protections by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Iowa’s civil rights act already has those protections and has since July 2007.
“Trans girls are girls. They are our children. They deserve the same support, nurturing, and opportunity of every Iowa girl. I hope that we’ll see some courage this afternoon, Mr. President,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D- Iowa City) in reference to Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman. “I hope that all of you will stand up for human rights. History will revisit this moment.”