Transgender athlete ban passes Iowa Senate, heads to Gov. Reynolds

Opponents say the bill is discriminatory to transgender kids
Kim Reynolds
Posted at 10:08 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 23:08:03-05

Transgender girls will not be allowed to play women’s sports at Iowa schools and colleges under a bill passed Wednesday by the Iowa Senate.

That means Gavy Smith, 15, would need to quit volleyball, bowling and golf – or play with the boys.

“One of the biggest things during my transition is just to feel like every other girl in school,” said Smith, who is transgender. “Being able to play volleyball, to be a part of a girls sport… has helped me engage with my friends, other people, and just be included.”

House File 2416 prohibits transgender girls from participating in women’s sports at Iowa’s K-12 schools, public and community colleges, and any other colleges and universities that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

The Housepassed House File 2416 last week. The Iowa Senate voted 31-17 to pass the bill Wednesday after nearly two hours of debate.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who requested the Legislature take action on transgender girls in sports in 2021, is expected to sign the proposal into law. Once she does, transgender girls like Smith will be immediately barred from girls’ teams.

Smith expects the change would be especially strange for sports like bowling, where the girls’ and boys’ teams play at the same alley, but in separate lanes.

“It would be very confusing for me to play on the boys’ side and listen to my friends on the girls’ team having fun together and sitting together,” Smith said. “And I have to play on the other side with the boys.”

Republicans cite fairness concerns in Senate debate

Republicans framed the proposal as a “fairness” issue, arguing transgender women have a biological advantage over cisgender girls.

Sen. Dawn Driscoll, R-Williamsburg, praised her two daughters for their hard work as student athletes, and she said it was “so unsettling” to think the fairness of those sports may be “constantly taken away from them” by transgender competitors.

“Men and boys, on average, are stronger and faster than women, and girls as well. Let’s face it: I cannot… throw a bale of hay over my head on the farm, but my husband and my son can,” Driscoll said. “This is not because I am lesser than the boys and men in my life, but rather because we have significant biological and physical differences.”

Some Republicans referenced Ainsley Erzen, an 18-year-old track athlete who has become a leading voice in favor of the bill. Erzen and several other competitive female athletes have pushed for the legislation, arguing transgender competitors could upset their titles, records and scholarships.

“I haven’t seen a long line of champion women athletes on your side of this,” Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, told Democrats. “For that matter, I haven’t really seen any women athletes come forward and say this is the right thing to do for competition of women’s sports.”

Senators cited no instances of transgender Iowans who unfairly beat cisgender women in competition, pointing instead to cases in other states like Connecticut and Pennsylvania. In the House, lawmakers pointed to one transgender girl in Western Iowa who made the junior varsity golf team.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, went further than his peers, asserting that gender and biological sex are the same and “unchangeable” from the moment of conception. He compared politics surrounding transgender people to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”

“Trans girls are boys, not girls,” Taylor said. “Trans women are men, not women.”

Democrats say bill is discriminatory

Opponents of the legislation said the bill will discriminate against transgender girls who just want to play sports and be part of a team.

“For Republican politicians, this issue isn’t about fairness at all — it’s about scoring political points, and they’re willing to play politics with the lives of children in order to score those points,” said Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said debate on the bill showed “a lack of knowledge and understanding about Iowa’s kids who are transgender.”

“They deserve to feel like they belong,” Petersen said. “They deserve to be included, not excluded.”

Tiffany Smith, mother to Gavy, said it seemed like Republicans leading the bill were legislating based on opinion, rather than listening to the people who would be impacted by the law.

“It’s just kind of falling on deaf ears,” she said. “ I’m super disappointed in Iowa.”

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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