Just in time for the 5oth anniversary of Title IX in June, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act passed the state Senate Education Committee in a 7-4 vote Tuesday, with Republicans praising it and Democrats panning it.
The bill, which passed the House in April, was introduced last year by five women legislators–state Reps. Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland), Martina White (R-Philadelphia), Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny), Dawn Keefer (R-Cumberland/York), and Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton/Center)—all of whom were student-athletes themselves and benefited from Title IX. That law requires equal treatment for girls and women in school and college athletics, in particular by protecting them from being forced to compete with biologically male athletes.
“Women are harmed when we fail to defend women’s sports,” said Gliem, testifying before the Senate committee. “I ask everyone here who opposed the bill, to tell the truth in the characterization of this bill. You know it does not ‘ban people from playing sports,’ which we’ve heard in the media. You know the truth that all males, no matter what gender identities they adopt are today welcome and will continue to be welcome to play against biological male bodies in male divisions. Sports are not about what we look like. Or the stereotypes or identities we adopt.”
The bill will “ultimately promote gender equality by giving both biological males and females the best environment in which to succeed,” Gliem said. Girls have “already lost opportunities and have been left to grapple with uncomfortable, painful and difficult situations because nobody in authority is willing to defend them.”
The issue became a cultural flashpoint in the wake of the high-profile story of biologically-male swimmer Lia Thomas, who had been a mediocre NCAA athlete when competing as a male but began breaking records competing as a woman.
White said, “Science and common sense tell us that biological males are generally bigger, faster, and stronger than females. They have larger hearts, lungs, denser bones, stronger muscles, and generate more force in athletics. These are all advantages that cannot be undone.
“Imagine how a young woman feels about missing a spot on a roster for her high school soccer team for a biological male. She loses more than just an opportunity,” said White. “She loses potential friendships and life lessons about being part of a team. She could lose out on athletic scholarship opportunities and miss out on athletic achievements that otherwise would have been hers, had she been given an equal opportunity to have fair play.”
“No one should be forcing biological females to compete against biological males,” White concluded. “It is patently wrong and unfair. Every young woman in Pennsylvania needs to know there are women here in Harrisburg standing up for them and their rights under Title IX. We will not permit anyone to chip away at women’s rights, including the right to have equal opportunity to play.”
Chester County state Sen. Carolyn Committa joined her fellow Democrats in opposing the bill. However, she said she agreed with “the intention of making sure the playing field is level and fair.”
Minority Chair Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) also opposed the bill, citing a letter from a list of organizations against it, including the American School Counselors Association and the National Association of School Psychologists, that said the bill “bans trans women from participating in sports.”
Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) also voted against the bill but agrees with “the intention of making sure the playing field is level and fair.”
Comitta added, “The University of Pennsylvania, that was a mess. That should have never happened. I agree with you. That was a failure on several levels…If there is empirical data that shows harm besides the University of Pennsylvania, be so kind to share that.”
But, Comitta insisted, “standing up for transgender females is not at the expense of other female athletes.”
Parents of female athletes forced to compete with biological males don’t agree.
“We are not anti-trans, we are certainly not anti-Lia,” a mother of a student who swam against Thomas this past season at Harvard told the New York Post. “We are for our girls having the right to compete under fair conditions. It is not fair for them to go up against a biological male, it just isn’t. We’ve been shamed into silence. We feel so helpless. Nobody hears us.”
Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who is running for governor, quoted President John Adams saying, “Facts are stubborn things.”
“Such a basic thing. What is a female? What is a male? I was lectured this past year in my questions by this administration about COVID to follow the science. Let’s do just that. And it’s not subjective at all. I stand in strong support of this legislation…There’s a lot of hate and animosity for anyone who stands for truth these days, sadly,” he said.
Sen. Tim Kearney (D-Chester/Delaware) voted against the bill.
“At its core, House Bill 972 is discriminatory and does nothing more than further marginalize trans individuals. This rhetoric that suggests transgender girls have an athletic advantage is scientifically unfounded and only adds to the stigma and attacks these individuals already face, simply for wanting to be their authentic selves. I stand with my Democratic colleagues in opposition to this bill and any other legislation that seeks to discriminate against trans people,” said Kearney.
If fact, multiple studies show biological males have an athletic advantage over their female counterparts and that advantage lasts for at least a year, if not longer, as an athlete transitions from male to female.
Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Josh Shapiro opposes the legislation and believes the PIAA should determine the rules, not the legislature.
“Instead of wasting time and taxpayer dollars on veto-bound attempts to bully children, our Republican-led legislature should be focused on improving the economy and helping Pennsylvania families. Josh Shapiro’s top priorities are lowering costs and cutting taxes, improving our schools, and making our communities safer – and that’s exactly what he’ll do as governor,” said spokesperson Will Simons.
State Senate candidate Rep. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Harleysville) supports the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. “I believe we need to protect athletic opportunities for biological women across this Commonwealth. The discipline, teamwork, scholarships, championship titles, and other opportunities for women to grow, mature, and compete in their chosen sport are worthy of our protection. Women fought long and hard to earn their rights under Title IX and this bill will ensure they continue to have equal access to play competitive sports on a level playing field, while biological men can continue to compete on the men’s teams.”
However, even if the full Senate approves the bill, Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto it.
“The governor has been clear – hate has no place in Pennsylvania, and that includes discrimination,” said Elizabeth Rementer, Wolf’s spokeswoman. “Any legislation designed to deny opportunities is both disturbing and dangerous. Transgender individuals should know that they belong, that they are valued, and that their participation in activities is welcomed.”