House Passes Hageman-Backed Bill to Block Transgender Athletes from Female School Sports Teams

The measure mirrors a similar law recently enacted in Wyoming

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) praised legislation which bars transgender student athletes from participating on female school sports teams. (Photo via C-SPAN).

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth


WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill which would amend federal civil rights laws to bar most transgender student athletes from participating on female school sports teams, as dozens of states, including Wyoming, have passed similar laws in recent months.  

The 219-203 House vote broke entirely along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting the measure and arguing it was needed to preserve fairness in sports.

“It seems astonishing to even have to state: men and women are biologically different. And just by a boy calling himself a girl it doesn’t make it so,” Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) said in remarks in support of the legislation on the House floor on Wednesday. “I played sports in high school, and I’m sure glad that we weren’t as lost as a society as what we seem to be today.”

“This is a great day for America, and a great day for girls and women and for fairness in sports,” echoed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at a news conference following the vote.

Democrats, who were unified in their opposition, conversely claimed the bill amounted to transphobia and discrimination.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“This is not about politics. This is about being there for all of America’s children, including transgender children, who just want to be able to live and to belong,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters after the bill’s passage. “Republicans are trying to sensationalize an issue that doesn’t really exist in the way that they are falsely portraying.”

The two-page measure — introduced by. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and which counts Hageman as a cosponsor — makes major changes to Title IX, the federal civil rights law barring discrimination based on sex in schools which receive federal funding. First enacted over 50 years ago, that policy is widely credited with bringing about significant expansions in school sports opportunities for female athletes.

If signed into law, Steube’s measure would amend Title IX’s definition of sex to be solely based on one’s “reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Schools or other institutions receiving federal dollars which run afoul of the policy by allowing trans athletes to participate on girls’ teams would risk losing their funding, though the text allows for trans athletes to train with women’s teams “so long as no female is deprived of a roster spot on a team” or of scholarship or admissions opportunities.

During floor debate on Thursday, lawmakers approved two amendments to the bill: one protecting schools from lawsuits should impacted students sue, and another proposing a study of the adverse effects of allowing transgender girls to participate in female sports, as well as the psychological effects on cisgender women.

In the U.S. Senate, which remains under narrow Democratic control, the measure has virtually no chance of passage. And President Joe Biden has threatened to veto the bill were it to make it to his desk, arguing in a statement of administrative policy that the bill is “completely unnecessary, hurts families and students, and would only put students at greater risk.”

“This administration is committed to protecting LGBTQ+ students at school,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday. Biden’s administration “is going to do everything that we can to protect LGBTQ+ people who are under attack, and that’s what we’ve been seeing across the country, especially in state houses.”

National law mirrors new Wyoming policy, though legal questions remain

The newly-passed law barring trans athletes from participating in female school sports mirrors similar measures recently enacted in 21 states, including Wyoming, according to research conducted by the Movement Advancement Project.

Wyoming’s measure, passed by the state legislature in March, bars public school students “of the male sex” in grades seven through 12 from participating in “an athletic activity or team designated for students of the female sex.” It also establishes a commission to “determine eligibility based on physical characteristics for the age and gender group in a given gender‑designated interscholastic activity” should the law be struck down by courts.

Officials with Wyoming Equality, a local LGBTQ+ advocacy group, have spoken publicly of their desire to block the law in court, though no such lawsuit has yet been filed.

In a statement announcing that he’d enable the measure to take effect, Gov. Mark Gordon criticized it as  “overly draconian” and “discriminatory,” though he opted not to utilize his veto powers to prevent it from becoming law.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder has said she supports it, as has Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who told reporters last month she believes it “creates a more level playing field.”

Earlier this month, however, the U.S. Department of Education proposed new federal guidelines which stand at odds with the Wyoming law. Billed as a compromise seeking to protect transgender students’ rights while also preserving fairness in sports, the federal proposal would bar outright bans on transgender athletes’ participation on teams — such as Wyoming’s law or the one which passed the House on Thursday — but enable schools and teams to block trans athletes from competing in certain circumstances.

But stakeholders on both sides of the issue have blasted the proposal. In a statement last week, Degenfelder called it “yet another example of the Biden administration’s aggressive federal overreach.” Transgender advocates and some LGBTQ+ rights organizations, meanwhile, have also lashed out, arguing the proposal would give schools a license to discriminate.

“I can’t read this any other way than a betrayal,” wrote prominent trans activist Erin Reed. “This entire document is worse than doing nothing.”

Representatives for the White House did not comment on the Wyoming Truth’s inquiries about such critiques.

Studies into alleged advantage for trans athletes remain inconclusive

Reliable data about transgender athletes in the United States, and transgender people more broadly, remains hard to come by.

According to a 2022 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles, roughly 300,000 American children identify as transgender — or approximately 0.6% of public school students.

Those studies which have sought to determine whether and to what extent transgender athletes are advantaged over their cisgender peers have yielded inconclusive results. A 2016 Sports Medicine “comprehensive review” of existing literature found “no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition.”

Yet a 2021 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found trans women to retain minor advantages over their cisgender competitors one year after undergoing testosterone suppression therapy, including a 9% faster mean running speed and an increased ability to do push-ups and sit-ups. Even so, the lead author cautioned against using such findings to justify trans sports bans.

Moreover, critics of such bans have questioned how they are to be enforced, raising the specter of school officials being required to inspect students’ genitalia to prove their gender.

“Think about it. How do you enforce this ban? How do you verify a woman’s ‘reproductive anatomy’?” posed Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose daughter is transgender. “If a young girl, if your daughter, doesn’t look feminine enough, is she subject to examination? This is absolutely absurd.”

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