Pennsylvania District Restricts Transgender Students to Sports Aligned With Sex at Birth

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
July 16, 2022US News
Pennsylvania District Restricts Transgender Students to Sports Aligned With Sex at Birth
A protester holds a sign outside the arena where Pennsylvania's Lia Thomas was competing in the 500-yard freestyle final at the NCAA women's swimming and diving championships, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga., on March 17, 2022. (John Bazemore/AP Photo)

A Pennsylvania school district approved a policy this week that will minimize how transgender student-athletes may participate in interscholastic athletics.

Board members of the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County approved the measure by a vote of 6–3 on Tuesday. The policy goes into effect immediately and will require all athletes to play team sports aligned with their sex at birth.

“Separate athletic teams on the basis of sex preserve fairness, provide increased opportunity for girls, and are safer,” the policy (pdf) reads. “As such, the district provides separate interscholastic athletic teams on the basis of sex.”

However, the measure notes two exceptions, as “reasonable accommodations” will be given to girls who wish to participate in the boy’s sports team, but only if there’s “no female team for that sport during the school year.”

Similarly, the school district will make accommodations available to biological males wishing to play on the girls’ team if there is no other viable option, although a doctor’s note certifying the student has yet to start male puberty must be shown to the school’s athletic director.

On the day of the vote, Hempfield school board member Jim Maurer, who opposes the new policy, said the ruling would make the school district more vulnerable to legal challenges that could jeopardize its federal funding through Title IX, which prevents sex-based discrimination.

“We’re at risk for further lawsuits in the future which would take away dollars that should be available for our students for educational needs,” Maurer told Lancaster Online.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education proposed an overhaul of anti-sex-discrimination rules, reinterpreting the term “sex” as something that doesn’t have to have a biological basis.

The Biden administration says the changes would be in accordance with President Joe Biden’s March 2021 executive order, which vowed to guarantee an educational environment “free from discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity.” Its proposed amendments would reverse many changes made by the Trump administration.

The debate around similar policies nationwide intensified after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male who publicly identifies as a female, became the first transgender NCAA champion in women’s Division I history after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle earlier this year. The win drew significant backlash from female swimmers, activists, and other athletes, including Thomas’s teammates.

transgender swimmer
Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas of Penn University competes in the 100-yard freestyle swimming race at the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 19, 2022. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

Nearly 30 states have recently introduced measures that would bar transgender student-athletes from competing on sports teams not consistent with their sex at birth, according to Freedom for All Americans, which tracks such legislation.

Earlier this year, FINA members widely adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” that bans transgender student-athletes who transitioned after age 12 to compete in women’s swimming events. The move was celebrated by one of Thomas’s competitors, University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines.

About 72 percent of members voted in favor of the directive to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions and create an “open” category for them.

On July 8, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed the Protect Women’s Sports Act, claiming the policy was “discriminatory” and would violate federal law and constitutional guarantees of equal protection if it had been enacted.

“I have been crystal clear during my time in office that hate has no place in Pennsylvania, especially discrimination against already marginalized youth representing less than half of 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s population,” Wolf said in a statement.

“The fact that this bill passed through Pennsylvania’s Republican-led General Assembly solely to bully and oppress vulnerable children is atrocious. These members should be ashamed of themselves for proposing and voting on policies that are ​discriminatory, unnecessary, and incredibly harmful.”

Only about three in ten U.S. adults believe transgenders should be allowed to compete in female sports at the professional, college, high school, or youth levels, according to a new poll from the Washington Post-University of Maryland.

The survey results released on June 14 show that 68 percent of Americans worry that transgender athletes would “have a competitive advantage” over biological women. Nearly 60 percent opposed transgender participation in college and professional female sports. For high schools, 55 percent opposed transgender participation in female sports compared to 30 percent who reckoned they should.

The divide narrowed when it came to youth sports, with about a third saying transgenders should be allowed to compete, versus 49 percent against such an opinion, citing biological physical advantages.

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