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Transgender student athlete ban advances in Iowa House

Iowa State Capitol Building
Posted at 12:54 PM, Feb 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-12 13:54:49-05

Transgender girls would not be allowed to play women’s sports at Iowa schools under a proposal moving through the Iowa House.

House File 2309 says only female students — based on the biological sex listed on a birth certificate — can participate on a girls’ athletic team in Iowa’s public and nonpublic schools. If a transgender girl plays on a girls’ team, the legislation would permit other students or schools to file legal action against whatever entity allowed her to play.

Several young female athletes spoke at a Thursday subcommittee meeting on the proposal.

Poppy Malone, a seventh-grader at Ames Middle School, advocated for the bill. Malone is a wrestler, and she said she doesn’t want biologically male students to “ruin the sport for us” after women’s wrestling was recently sanctioned.

“If you don’t want to wrestle boys, but a transgender female comes in and wrestles you, you’re probably going to get beaten,” she said.

Ainsley Erzen, a senior at Carlisle High School, argued transgender girls should not be allowed in women’s sports, and she called it “utter ridiculousness” that a debate was needed on the issue.

“This is not an attack on the trans community,” she said. “This is about the restoration of the rights so many women before us have fought so hard to secure.”

But Gavy Smith, a transgender freshman from Decorah, said participating in sports was “the best thing to look forward to at the end of the day.”

“They have made me stronger mentally and physically,” she said.

Tiffany Smith, Gavy’s mother, said she was “gutted” when a school employee told her Gavy may not be able to participate in girls’ sports. Gavy ultimately was allowed to participate, joining volleyball, softball, track and bowling.

“We have observed her making new friendships,” Tiffany Smith said. “She’s becoming more confident and she’s working to live her best life.”

Education and LGBTQ advocates also opposed the bill, arguing transgender girls should have access to extracurricular activities. Lobbyists and several medical professionals said transgender students have significantly higher rates of mental illness and suicidal ideation – things that may be improved with the support and routine of an accepting team sport.

Keenan Crow, lobbyist for One Iowa, said there had been “no documented instances of unfairness in our state” regarding transgender students playing womens’ sports.

“Work with us to face the actual problems in girls’ and women’s sports, and list to the real harm that this would cause transgender children and their parents,” said Crow, pointing toward lower pay, fewer sponsorship opportunities and higher rates of sexual harassment in women’s athletics.

After an hour of debate, a panel of House lawmakers moved the proposal forward, marking it eligible for consideration by the full Education Committee. Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler and Rep. Henry Stone signed off in favor, calling it “the only fair solution.”

“I believe that women deserve to be on a level playing field,” Stone said. “Allowing males to compete in women’s sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities.”

Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat, did not sign off on the legislation, calling it “state-sanctioned bullying.”

“Our transgender teens deserve better,” Mascher said. “It is a very small population. It is not a group of people that deserve this kind of treatment.”

At least 10 states have passed laws or enacted executive orders to ban transgender students from sports, according to the New York Times. An additional 23 states considered legislation on the issue last year, but did not pass anything into law.

Gov. Kim Reynolds pushed for a bill to ban transgender girls from women’s sports in the waning weeks of the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers did not pass a bill before adjourning, but Republican leaders said they intended to bring the issue back in 2022.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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