Iowa governor signs restrictive transgender sports bill

Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Becky Smith speaks to reporters against a bill that prohibits transgender females from participating in girls high school sports and women's college athletics after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/David Pitt) (David Pitt, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law Thursday a bill that prohibits transgender females from participating in girls high school sports and women’s college athletics, rejecting opponents' argument that she would harm vulnerable children to solve a nonexistent problem.

Reynolds signed the bill at a ceremony in the Capitol just a day after lawmakers sent it to her desk. It passed the House and Senate with only Republican support.

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The Republican governor called the signing a celebration of victory for girls sports.

"No amount of talent, training or effort can make up for the natural physical advantages males have over females. It’s simply a reality of human biology,” Reynolds said. “Forcing females to compete against males is the opposite of inclusivity and it’s absolutely unfair.”

Carlisle High School Senior Ainsley Erzen, who set the state 800-meter track record and has appeared at committee meetings to support the bill, said the law will protect female athletes.

“Iowa girls today and every generation to come will be able to pursue the things they love to the best of their abilities," Erzen said. “Whether that’s chasing titles, records, scholarships or earning a starting position on a team. No girl will be sidelined in their own sport.”

When a reporter asked Reynolds to give an example of a girl outperformed by a transgender athlete, the governor didn't offer a specific case but maintained the restrictions were needed.

Republican leaders made the bill effective immediately, so any transgender students playing sports may be required to immediately stop. It wasn’t clear how many students it would affect, but it’s believed to be no more than a handful in Iowa.

“Because the legislation would go into effect as soon as the governor signs it, she is showing once again that she’s more interested in scoring political points than caring about the impact of legislation on some of the most marginalized kids in our society,” said Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls.

The bill requires students participating in interscholastic sports sponsored or sanctioned by an accredited nonpublic school or a public school district to play only with others that match the gender listed on their birth certificate. It also has provisions to allow civil lawsuits to uphold the intent of the law. The bill applies to sports from primary school grades into state universities and colleges.

Lobbyists for school boards, school administrators and teachers said the bill puts educators and administrators in an untenable position of choosing whether to follow the new state law or federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in sports activities.

Des Moines Public Schools spokesman Phil Roeder said it's not immediately clear how schools are expected to implement the law. The district's lobbyist opposed the bill because it believes the legislation discriminates against transgender girls and women and the district is concerned it conflicts with federal anti-discrimination laws.

“Our school district welcomes and supports LGBTQ students, and providing them with the opportunities they deserve,” he said.

Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Heather Doe confirmed that the agency has not given schools guidance but acknowledged the bill went into effect immediately.

Mark Stringer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, denounced the law, saying it “violates the civil rights of transgender girls and women” in Iowa.

“Today the state of Iowa bought into unsupported myths about transgender girls and women participating in sports — myths fueled by ignorance and fear,” Stringer said.

Iowa will join 10 other GOP-run states with such laws. Some have faced court challenges alleging violations of constitutional rights and federal nondiscrimination laws.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency told lawmakers the state could lose federal funds if authorities find it is violating federal civil rights laws. The agency also said the bill may conflict with participation rules of university, college and junior college athletic organizations, risking loss of eligibility and media rights or competition hosting revenues. The bill also may cost the state litigation expenses.

Becky Smith, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, an LGBTQ advocacy group, held a transgender flag behind lawmakers and girls from several schools who were with Reynolds as she spoke and signed the bill. Smith said the law will “open up a giant landslide of lawsuits against different school districts across the state when transgender students remember they have a federal right to protection under the law.”

South Dakota Gov. Krisi Noem signed a similar ban into law in February.

Other states with similar laws include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee and Texas, all passed last year. Enforcement of a 2020 Idaho law is on hold after a federal judge ruled it is likely to be found unconstitutional.

A judge in West Virginia last July issued an order allowing an 11-year-old transgender girl to participate in girls cross country, saying the state’s law passed last year would have violated her constitutional rights and a federal law that guarantees equal treatment of men and women in education and sports programs.

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