Republican majority on House Education Committee unanimously approves ban on transgender girls in girls’ sports

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A bill banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at school passed the Iowa House Education Committee on a party-line vote Monday, with all the committee’s Republicans voting in favor of it and all of its Democrats opposed.

HF 2309 would restrict participation on all girls’ sports teams and in all athletic events for girls at all public and private schools to those it defines as female, according to “the sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate,” and allow any student to sue a school or district for “direct or indirect harm” suffered as a result of the ban not being enforced. Since the bill appears to violate federal civil rights laws, it also requires the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to defend “at no cost” any school or district sued over the ban.

According to Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler of Orange City, one of bill’s sponsors and the chair of the subcommittee that approved the bill last week, this likely violation of federal civil rights law is necessary to uphold federal civil rights law — specifically, Title IX. That law was enacted in 1972 to prohibit sex-based discrimination in educational programs funded by federal dollars.

Wheeler, better known for advocating for a religious approach to lawmaking (“My worldview begins with the Bible and taking it in its literal form… As a state legislator, I will use the Bible as my starting point for making decisions on what legislation I should support and which I should oppose,” he told Little Village in 2018) than for promoting women’s rights, invoked Title IX rather than the Bible at last week’s subcommittee hearing and again on Monday.

“There are girls being harmed because we have not stepped up and said, ‘You know what, biological girls? We created Title IX, we created girls’ sport so girls had a level and equal playing field,’” Wheeler said, during the Education Committee hearing.

He did not cite any examples of this alleged harm. As Keenan Crow of One Iowa, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ Iowans, explained during the subcommittee hearing, “Iowa hasn’t had a single incident of even alleged unfairness, let alone a documented case.”

But neither the absence of any existing problem, nor the testimony by medical experts about the beneficial effects of participating in school sports for transgender girls has persuaded any House Republican to oppose this bill so far.

“I am not for putting a girl at risk of losing a scholarship or a varsity slot or a state title simply because we have members in the body that think that this is for some reason discriminatory,” Wheeler told the committee on Monday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds offered a similar rationale for banning transgender girls from girls’ sports, when asked about the bill on Tuesday.

“Girls have dreams and aspirations of earning a scholarship to help pay for college,” Reynolds said, during an event at St. Theresa Catholic School in Des Moines, “Girls have dreams and aspirations of one day competing in the Olympics. So it’s a fairness issue.”

The governor was at the Catholic school to promote the bill she is sponsoring that would redirect public school funds and allow them to be used to cover the cost of private school tuition, even at religious schools.

Despite laying out her justification for eliminating transgender girls from girls’ athletic activities, Reynolds said she has not taken a position on HF 2309.

“I’m not going to say yes or no until it lands on my desk,” the governor said. Reynolds often claims to have no position on controversial bills, the provisions of which she has advocated for, up until the moment she signs those bills into law.

The governor did acknowledge she had called for a bill like HF 2309 to be passed last year. In an appearance on Fox News in April last year, Reynolds said “we’re working on legislation” to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at school

“I should have that to my desk hopefully by the end of this legislative session and we’ll be signing that bill into law,” she told Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

At the time, Reynolds’ statement came as a surprise to legislators who were not working on such a bill.

The Democratic opposition to HF 2309 on Monday was led by Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, who spent 33 years teaching in the Iowa City Community School District before retiring in 2009.

“The state of Iowa should never discriminate against a child or a group of children,” Mascher said. “We are better than that. If we’re not, we should be.

“Transgender children are 40 percent more likely to try and commit suicide. It is not because of who they are, it is because of how they are treated.”

As Mascher pointed out, “There are not examples of unfairness or anyone attempting to game the system. That’s insulting, especially to children who are already marginalized.”

The Education Committee voted 14-7 to approve the bill. HF 2309 is now eligible to go to the floor of the Iowa House for debate and a final vote.

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