(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A potential transgender athlete ban has leapt another hurdle on its way to becoming law in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, May 24, the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee passed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act with a 7-4 vote. The act essentially restricts student athletes to playing on sports teams or in leagues that match their birth gender. Teams would need to be defined as male, female or co-ed.
Having passed the committee, the act now can be considered by the full Senate.
State Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Greenville) is a member of the Education Committee and voted in favor of the act. Brooks said — despite what opponents may contend — the bill aims to ensure exactly what its title says: fairness in women’s sports.
“It’s not about sexuality — it’s about genetics. It’s not about hate, it’s not about special interests — it’s about fairness for all these girls who dream about competing fairly in sports,” Brooks said. In her comments, she noted the genetic advantages men have over women when it comes to sports. “Men have larger lungs and larger hearts. Men are often taller than women. In swimming, that five, or six, or seven inches makes a difference. They have larger hands and larger feet. There are differences.”
“You don’t ask a 180-pound wrestler to wrestle a 115-pound wrestler,” she added. “If you look at an Olympic athlete runner, look at the times in running where records are set for a runner that’s a female and compare them to the male times.”
The bill has opposition. Tyler Titus of Erie is a former high-profile Erie County executive candidate who is transgender. (Titus’s preferred pronouns are “they/them”) They said the act is nothing more than a misdirection.
“Most Pennsylvanians cannot name a transgender athlete, let alone one that has dominated any sport in our commonwealth in a way that supports an assertion of unfairness; however, Pennsylvanians can name family members who are struggling to pay their bills because of inequity in minimum wage, a loved one who has struggled to gain access to quality healthcare due to inequity in access, and a child who has been impacted by inequity in public education funding,” Titus said. “Fairness in sports is a ridiculous attempt to shift focus from the ways our Republican-led House and Senate have failed our commonwealth and those who call Pennsylvania home.”
Brooks says the opposition is unfortunate.
“This is plainly and simply about fairness for women,” Brooks said. “It’s ironic that some of the very people who talk about equality for women, fairness in the workplace and fairness in pay scale — some of those very people say they’re against making women’s sports equal and fair.
“It’s ironic, contradictory and, quite frankly, hypocritical.”
State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) was not part of the committee but will have the opportunity to vote on the bill. Laughlin seemed focused on trying to strike a balance.
“Everybody understands, or should understand, that it clearly isn’t fair for the women forced into competition against a biological male. Based on that understanding, there has to be a way to be inclusive of our trans community without turning a blind eye to an unfair advantage where women who have spent their lifetime competing in a sport have no chance in achieving their dreams,” Laughlin said. “I’m interested in gathering input from stakeholders to try and navigate this complex issue, particularly the Governor. I’m going to reach out to him and see if there’s any way we can discuss this obvious problem without taking away opportunities for athletes of all genders to compete and win.”
The recent advancement from the committee was celebrated by the Pennsylvania Family Institute — a group who is self-described on its website as, “a key strategic voice for the family, and for the Judeo-Christian principles needed for a free and prosperous society(;) The Pennsylvania Family Institute team has proven to be an indispensable asset to all those seeking a Pennsylvania where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.”
“Men have a biological advantage over women, and when women are forced to compete against them, they lose their right to a fair playing field. It is incredibly encouraging to see leaders taking a stand to ensure that women do not lose out on decades of hard-won opportunities, gained through Title IX,” said Alexis Sneller, communications and policy officer at the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
Local members of the transgender community were not celebrating the bill’s progress. Cole Schenley is a board member of TransFamily of NWPA, and he lamented the bill and what it signals to the transgender community.
“It’s wrongheaded. It’s really deplorable that this is where we’re at as a society. You’re really starting to see a rise in anti-trans,” Schenley said. “Nationally, there’s this pushback against the trans identity. Especially heading into June where it’s pride month, it makes it even worse that the Legislature is pushing for this.”
Schenley noted that the bill is likely to impact young athletes.
“All these kids want to do is play sports with their friends and enjoy the camaraderie that goes with it,” Schenley said. “One side wants to play sports, and have fun with each other, and enjoy each other’s company, and be a community, and be loving and peaceful — then you have people in the Legislature who are pushing these bills that are prohibitive toward and singling out kids in a community.”
Last month, the act passed the Republican-led House with an 115-84 vote.
When the act had passed out of the House Education Committee, the committee chair and state Rep. Curtis Sonney (R-Erie) had said the bill was meant to send a message.
“By moving this bill today, we are in essence sending a message to the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) that we do not agree with their current rules concerning transgender female participation in girls’ and women’s sports,” Sonney said.
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If the act passes the Senate, it will go to the Governor’s desk. On April 26, 2021, Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted, “I’ll veto this discriminatory bill if it gets to my desk.”
Schenley said that even if the bill fails to become law, it still sends a message to the transgender community.
“It shows there’s a lot of work to do when there are people that are pushing this stuff — their brand of radicalism is so out of touch with the world that everybody else lives in within this country,” Schenley said. “Rules are already in place by the NCAA that already account for (any unfair advantage), and the NCAA does this stuff 24/7.
“This act is such an overreach by the Legislature — it’s sad.”