Celebrate sport, embrace competition, practice empathy and stop attacking transgender athletes

State Reps. Maureen Madden and Ben Sanchez argue for the inclusion of transgender athletes in school sports

State Rep. Maureen Madden

State Rep. Maureen Madden PA House Democrats

No child – not in Pennsylvania, not across the U.S., not anywhere – is taking hormone suppressants in order to gain a competitive advantage in sports. 

Let’s start there before we dig into the details of yet another time-wasting bill from Pennsylvania Republicans. 

To read the tiresome language in state Rep. Barbara Gleim’s H.B. 972, which makes multiple mentions of the term “biological males” as if there’s a plague of opportunistic cisgender boys and men seeking avenues to dominate female sports, you’d assume there is some nefarious plot with widespread ramifications impacting fairness and Title IX. 

However, there are several actual facts in play that prove the legislation pushed by Reps. Gleim, Martina White, Valerie Gaydos, Stephanie Borowicz and Dawn Keefer – which the House passed mostly along party lines earlier this month – is a ploy meant only to “play politics” in a year where the prime sponsor of this bill is facing a primary opponent and to divide our commonwealth further by using the children of Pennsylvania as bait. 

First, this is a non-controversy with no basis in science. According to the Williams Institute, 0.34% of Pennsylvania’s population identify as transgender. A 2019 CDC report showed 1.8% of high school students identified as transgender, with only a small percentage participating in sports. Of those who participate, just like within any segmented population of people, only a select few would be considered dominant in their sport – not because of their assigned gender at birth, but because of the hard work and dedication that comes from practice and participation. 

What makes an athlete dominate is always a blend of many factors. Gender alone is never a defining reason for dominance. There will always be competitors who are taller, faster, stronger, more athletic, and with different support systems and opportunities. 

It’s absurd to attempt to legislate transgender athletes out of the arenas where they belong. If one is truly so concerned about the fairness in women’s sports, how about focusing on equal pay for professionals, equal opportunities for amateurs and equitable funding at all levels? 

And, for those claiming University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas isn’t the NCAA’s rightful 500-yard freestyle champ, we challenge you: Without googling it, name last year’s 500-yard freestyle champ. Or literally name any other NCAA women’s swimming champion from this year or last year (or any year, really). If you are among those who “believe” in H.B. 972 and can’t name anyone, then your attempt to mask your transphobia under the cloak of women’s rights is showing. 

Second, and most importantly, understand the psychological harm legislation like this does to people who are transgender. Understand the wholly unnecessary hurt it causes them, as well as those of us who love, accept and seek humanizing ways to support them

Trans youth face discrimination daily from various directions – all because they have courageously decided to choose to live authentically. 

Someone who is cisgender – a person who identifies with the sex assigned to them at birth – could never and will never understand the strength and perseverance that a trans person must encompass to withstand the constant barrage of attacks thrown at them both blatantly and subtly. What many of us can understand is that by adding their government to the list of bullies is not what these children need, especially when organizations like the NCAA and PIAA are already tasked with protecting their athletes. 

So, when somebody like Rep. Gleim gets in front of a microphone to spread falsehoods and deliver not-so-subtle digs at LGBTQ+ individuals, reading language crafted out of ignorance and fearmongering while making zero attempt to humanize the people whom she and her co-sponsors are targeting, it has a profound negative effect on many who identify as transgender.  

Maureen Madden, who was first elected to represent the 115th Legislative District in 2016, serves on the House State Government, Education, Human Services, and Gaming Oversight committees. She also serves as Chair of the Northeast Delegation. 

Ben Sanchez, who was first elected to represent the 153rd Legislative District in 2018, serves on the House State Government, Health, Local Government, and Appropriations committees.