Reynolds’ plan to restrict transgender children’s role in school sports faces opposition

By: and - May 6, 2021 3:14 pm

At a May 5, 2021, press conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds discussed her effort to restrict the participation of transgender children in school sports. (Screenshot via Iowa PBS)

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to restrict the participation of transgender children in school sports is facing opposition from Democrats and some Iowa faith leaders.

At her press conference Wednesday, Reynolds reiterated her desire to sign legislation that will in some way limit the ability of transgender students to participate in sports alongside other children. She suggested that by allowing transgender students to compete with, or against, other athletes, females have been placed at a disadvantage.

“I think it’s an issue of fairness,” she said. “Do we have women’s and girls’ sports or not? So I believe that.”

Reynolds said her intent is to make sure female athletes “can compete and have the same opportunities. Is there girls’ sports or is there not girls’ sports? And so I have said that I believe that this is a fairness issue and this is one of the ways that we can address that. And if a bill gets to my desk, I will sign it.”

Predictably, Reynolds’ push for such legislation isn’t embraced by Democrats in the House and Senate.

“First of all, I have heard nobody in my district really talk about this as an issue,” said House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City. “This is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the proposal — which has yet to find its way into a bill to be voted on by lawmakers — “sends an incredibly hurtful message to a group of Iowans who are already very marginalized, and bullies teenagers who are already going through a pretty challenging situation. And it’s a colossal waste of legislative time and energy for a legislature that’s already in overtime.”

Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and Action Fund, said Thursday that “transgender kids want to play sports for the same reasons as other kids, and they want to be treated fairly. As with all kids, they want to feel like they belong and that they are welcome to participate.”

Keenan Crow, the director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa, said the governor’s proposal “targets children for exclusion and alienation from their peers.”

He said legislation proposed earlier in the year by Rep. Jeff Shipley, a Republican from Birmingham, and Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Republican from Janesville, would have allowed anyone to challenge a student’s gender, which would then lead to a process of verification that might include medical testing and an examination of the students “external reproductive anatomy.”

The bill was opposed by the Iowa State Education Association and Iowa Association of School Boards, and was backed by The Family Leader and the Families United Action Network.

“This version of the bill was rightfully sent to the scrapheap,” Crow said. “Yet, just days away from the end of the session, Kim Reynolds went on Fox News last week and resurrected it with a new call for discrimination and exclusion. Now, we don’t know what this version of the ban will look like. Neither does the public, and neither do the children and families who will be impacted by it. The most likely scenario of introducing an undebated measure this late in the session is going to be that those impacted will be left out of the conversation completely.”

At her press conference Wednesday, Reynolds was asked why, if the issue is so important to her, she waited until this late in the session to call for legislation on the matter.

In response, she said, “As we saw this continue to happen, I have had conversations with the leadership. We’ve looked at various languages. We want to make sure that, you know, we try to get it right and that we have that — that we’re actually taking into account where we believe that we have the authority to do that. And so this has been an ongoing conversation I’ve had with leadership.”

Asked whether there was some specific case of Iowans being treated unfairly due to the lack of such legislation, Reynolds said, “This is something we’ve been talking about with legislators throughout the session. Because it’s a fairness issue.”

Prichard said Thursday he still doesn’t know what will happen with the governor’s proposal.

“I don’t know if the Republicans are going to bring that up in the legislature or if this was just something that the governor was pandering to an audience,” Prichard said. “I have no idea.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.

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