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Iowa bills barring transgender girls from sports teams threaten equality, critics say

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Story at a glance

  • An Iowa state Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would prevent transgender girls from playing on sports teams which match their gender identity. It now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
  • A similar House bill would bar transgender girls from girls’ sports teams in public and private K-12 schools.
  • Critics of the measures have said they will alienate trans youth, with one Democratic Representative calling the House bill “state-sanctioned bullying.”

An Iowa state Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would prevent transgender girls from playing on school sports teams aligning with their gender identity.

While the Senate bill covers competition in charter schools, universities and community colleges, its accompanying House bill is less broad, only addressing private and public K-12 schools. 

Both would allow students to take legal action against a school district or athletic association if transgender girls are not barred from participating in girls’ sports. The bills now move to the full Senate and the full House for a vote.

During a House subcommittee meeting last week, Rep. Mary Mascher, a Democrat, called the House bill “state-sanctioned bullying.”


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“We talk a good game up here about protecting students, and making sure that their rights are upheld and that we honor and give them dignity in terms of their participation in school, activities and sports. And at the same time, we are setting up a system that will allow the state to sanction bullying in our schools,” Mascher, who taught fifth and sixth-graders for more than three decades, said.

Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President JoDee Winterhof said that while Iowa has long been “ahead of the curve” in advancing LGBTQ+ equality, the bills are a sign that that progress may be beginning to unravel.

“Today, the progress we have made is at risk,” she said Thursday in a statement. “At a time when our focus should be on recovering from the pandemic, creating jobs, and raising wages, right-wing politicians are instead pushing through a bill that will ban transgender kids from participating in sports.”

Winterhof added that the legislation “will not solve any problems or improve the quality of life for anyone in Iowa. Instead, it will stigmatize and alienate young people who should be able to grow up feeling accepted for who they are.”

“Iowa deserves better. The LGBTQ+ community will be watching next week’s vote. And make no mistake – we will remember the politicians who chose to use the power and trust of their office to attack transgender children and use their lives and well-being to score cheap political points with their base,” she said.

Both measures will almost certainly become law if they reach the desk of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who has already on several occasions said she does not believe transgender girls should be allowed to compete in girls’ sports.

“Girls have dreams and aspirations of earning a scholarship to help pay for college. Girls have dreams and aspirations of one day competing in the Olympics,” Reynolds said Tuesday, the Des Moines Register reported. “So it’s a fairness issue.”


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