Transgender athlete restrictions pass Iowa House

Amended bill would include college and K-12 school sports

By: - February 21, 2022 7:18 pm

A woman wearing sports clothing sprints off the starting blocks on an outdoor running track. (Photo by Tom Werner/Getty Images)

Iowa House Republicans passed a bill Monday to ban transgender girls from women’s sports, the most expansive proposal yet in an ongoing effort to regulate transgender student athletes.

House File 2416 would prohibit transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in Iowa K-12 schools and colleges. That means any students who are “biological males,” regardless of their gender identity, would not be allowed to compete against biological females.

“Biological males, who have significant physiological advantages, do not get to play female sports,” said Rep. Skyler Wheeler, who led debate on the proposal. “It’s very clear.”

The bill would apply to public and nonpublic K-12 schools, public colleges governed by the Board of Regents, community colleges and any other colleges or universities that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

Republican proponents of the legislation, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, argued it is physically unfair to allow transgender women to play alongside biological females.

“Males have larger lungs, they have larger hearts. They are taller. They have stronger muscles. They tend to be faster … Those are facts,” said Wheeler, R-Orange City. “It’s not my truth. It’s just the truth.”

In a press conference last week, Reynolds said restricting girls’ sports to biological females was a “fairness issue.”

“My granddaughter runs in track, and Kevin and I try to get to as many track meets as we can,” Reynolds said. “All you have to do is look at the scoreboard when it’s a girls’ and boys’ track meet and watch the races come in. They’re not equal.”

House Democrats fired back in debate Monday, arguing the bill is discriminatory against transgender girls and women. They pointed to higher rates of suicidal ideation and mental illness among transgender teens, and the potential benefits of belonging on a team that affirms their gender.

“Passing this bill could actually increase the rate of depression, anxiety and suicide for trans girls,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. “This is not about right or wrong. This is about life or death.”

Several Democrats noted Iowa has no high-profile cases of transgender girls besting biological females in high-level competitions.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, asked Wheeler to give an example of a transgender girl in Iowa who had wrongfully won an athletic competition against biological females. Wheeler said a biological male was competing in girls’ golf in his school district, displacing a member of the junior varsity team.

“If somebody is going to get a position, somebody is not going to get a position,” Wheeler said. “So there’s an example in my own district – probably the heart of conservatism in America – where this has taken place.”

Rep. Bruce Hunter’s response to the anecdote: “Well, duh.”

“He believes that some of those kids may have an advantage when it comes to athletics and knock other people off of the team… That happens all the time,” Hunter, D-Des Moines said. “Some kids are taller than others. Some kids are bigger-boned than others. Some kids are faster than others. Some people can hit a golf ball farther than others.”

The House passed the bill, 55-39, after several hours of debate. The proposal still needs to pass in the Senate, where a similar bill is eligible for floor debate.

“This bill is not about discrimination,” Wheeler said. “This bill is about protection.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie 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.