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Indiana lawmakers advance bill banning transgender athletes

Bill: Students born male but who identify as female can’t participate in a sport designated for girls
Opponents of a Republican-backed bill that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity, gather in the Indiana House balcony, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, during a House Education Committee hearing at the Statehouse. Opponents maintained that Hoosier youth would be unfairly discriminated against by the bill, which Indiana lawmakers advanced to the full House. (AP Photo/Casey Smith)

Indiana lawmakers advanced a Republican-backed bill Monday that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity.

The bill would prohibit students who were born male but identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for women or girls. The proposal would not prevent students who identify as female or transgender men from playing on men’s sports teams.

House education committee chair Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis said the bill, which now heads to the full House, is supported by a “majority” of House Republicans.

The legislation drew nearly three hours of testimony in the committee on Monday, with opponents maintaining that it’s unconstitutional, sexist and bigoted.

“Sports are promoted for K through 12 kids not so they can become scholarship, pro athletes, but because … sports participation builds self esteem, positive mental health outcomes, self confidence and scholastic achievement,” said Emma Vosicky, executive director of GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based social service agency for trans and nonbinary people and their families. “(This bill) wants to strip these benefits from a whole category of children as punishment for their experience and understanding of their gender.”

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union testified that the group intends to file a lawsuit if the “hateful legislation” is signed into law.

“There is no place in Indiana where trans girls have taken over girls sports teams,” said Kit Malone, advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Indiana. “Trans people by whatever name used to call them are your neighbors, your friends, your family members, students in your schools. How can we possibly do this?”

Republican Rep. Michelle Davis of Greenwood, who authored the bill, said the purpose of the proposal is to “maintain fair competition in girls’ sports.” She supported an amendment accepted by the education committee on Monday that removes postsecondary education athletics from the proposal.

“I know from experience that female athletes deserve fair competition and an even playing field,” Davis said. “This bill will ensure just that — a fair and equal opportunity to compete — for Hoosier girls, now and in the future.”

The legislation would also establish a civil action for violations, and schools wouldn’t be subject to liabilities for complying with it.

Davis said the grievance provisions could be filed by a coach or an athletic director if a student on a team had an “unfair advantage” that was “blatant” or “extraordinary,” although she acknowledged that students who are excluded from playing sports under the legislation could take civil action, too.

Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt testified Monday at the Indiana Statehouse that the legislation “is not about humanity or inclusion,” but rather “about competition and winning.”

The conservative Republican representative from Idaho Falls passed the nation’s first ban on transgender athletes in women’s sports in 2020, although the law hasn’t been active for over a year while it’s being challenged in court.

If the bill passes the Legislature, Indiana could be the 10th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. In two of those states — Idaho and West Virginia — the laws have been halted by federal judges. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged bans in other states, slamming them as violations of federal law.

At least half a dozen other bills proposed by conservative lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly in the current legislative session further seek to limit rights for transgender Hoosiers.

One House bill would prohibit transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Another seeks to ban gender changes on birth certificates.

In the Senate, a bill filed by Republican Sen. Erin Houchin of Salem would amend Indiana law to clarify that using pronouns that are not consistent with a child’s gender identity is not considered child abuse or neglect.

A separate proposal authored by Republican Sen. Dennis Kruse of Auburn would ban gender-affirming medical care for minors, including surgeries or prescribed hormones, regardless of parental approval. However, Kruse told The Indianapolis Star his bill would not be advancing.

—Casey Smith, The Associated Press

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