The state House voted 115-84 to pass House Bill 972
, known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which states that sports teams sponsored by public school entities, state-sponsored institutions and some private institutions must be designated as male, female or coed and that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls … may not be open to students of the male sex.” The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled state Senate for consideration.
As the state House debated the measure Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf said he would veto the bill.
“As states across the country push transphobic legislation, some Republicans in the General Assembly are wasting time attempting the same in Pennsylvania,” Wolf wrote
on Twitter. “It won’t get past my desk.”
The bill defines “sex” as “the biological distinction between male and female based on reproductive biology and genetic make-up.”
While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said the language of “biological sex” is overly simplistic and misleading.
The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint, especially among conservatives. The Pennsylvania bill marks the latest legislation
targeting transgender athletes being pushed at the state level.
A 2021 memo
from state Rep. Barbara Gleim, the bill’s prime sponsor, and four co-sponsors said the legislation was being introduced to “protect opportunities for women and girls in athletics by ensuring women are not forced to compete against biological males playing on women’s sports teams.”
But while conservatives pushing such measures have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports, a 2017 report
found “no direct or consistent research” on any such advantage.
The legislation comes after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title after finishing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event last month. Thomas, who previously swam for the men’s team at Penn, has come to personify the debate around transgender women’s participation in sports.
The NCAA has come out in opposition to such bans, saying last April that it’s closely monitoring them to make sure NCAA championships can be held “in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania blasted the bill following the state House’s vote.
“Even with the governor’s veto assured, we will do everything necessary to defeat this bill,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, in a statement.