Indiana lawmakers advanced a Republican-backed bill Thursday that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in K-12 school sports that match their gender identity, despite mounting opposition from activists who say that it’s unconstitutional, sexist and bigoted.
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. But it wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender men from playing on men’s sports teams.
The measure was voted out of the House on Thursday in a 66-30 vote, largely along party lines. Republican Reps. Ed Clere of New Albany and Cindy Ziemke of Batesville joined Democrats in voting against the proposal, which now heads to the Senate.
Democrats argued that the bill is “discriminatory” and “harmful to kids.” They also contended that the Indiana High School Athletic Association already has a policy that requires transgender girls who want to play sports to show they’ve completed hormone therapy, and that their muscle mass or bone density is typical of other girls the same age.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne added that the bill would be “detrimental” to the state’s ability to attract businesses and retain talented professionals.
“When we pass laws on issues like this, we are usually trying to put an end to discrimination,” said Democratic Rep. Tonya Pfaff of Terre Haute. “This law puts discrimination in Indiana law. It sends a message, and it’s a bad one.”
Republican Rep. Michelle Davis of Greenwood, who authored the bill, said the purpose of the proposal is to “maintain fair competition in girls’ sports.”
“I know from experience that female athletes deserve fair competition and an even playing field, and this bill ensures just that — a fair opportunity,” Davis said Thursday.
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.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said GOP senators hadn’t yet discussed whether they would take up the House proposal but acknowledged its support among social conservatives.
“It’s a fairness for young ladies who are trying to compete and, at least to some folks, it doesn’t feel fair if you allow somebody who at least started out as a male to go in and compete with them in the same sport, so that’s an issue that has some folks’ interest over here,” Bray said.
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.
Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union maintained on Monday that the group will file a lawsuit if the “hateful legislation” is signed into law in Indiana.
At least half a dozen other bills were proposed by conservative lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly in the current legislative session to further limit rights for transgender Hoosiers. All of those measures have effectively died, however.
One House bill would have prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Another sought to ban gender changes on birth certificates.
In the Senate, a different proposal would have banned gender-affirming medical care for minors, including surgeries or prescribed hormones. A separate bill would have amended Indiana law to clarify that using pronouns that are not consistent with a child’s gender identity is not considered child abuse or neglect.