Assembly Republicans pass bills excluding trans girls and women from sports

Republicans express outrage after being called “cruel” for excluding children from athletic opportunities

By Henry Redman

Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) wrote the bills passed on Wednesday that would exclude trans women and girls from playing sports.

Multiple times during a debate on Wednesday over two bills that would exclude transgender girls and women from playing sports in leagues that align with their gender identity, the bills’ author, Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) expressed outrage over accusations from Democrats that the legislation was “shameful” or “cruel.” 

“We’ve heard some really unkind rhetoric here and it hasn’t come from my side of the aisle,” Dittrich said. 

Yet on Wednesday, over the course of Assembly Republicans’ pre-session news conference and the floor debate, Dittrich and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) used the terms “biological male” and “biological female” at least a dozen times. 

The use of these terms, purposefully referring to transgender people by something other than their gender identity, is considered by GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, to be harmful to trans people. 

“Problematic phrases like those above are reductive and overly-simplify a very complex subject,” GLAAD says in a language guide. “A person’s sex is determined by a number of factors — not simply genetics — and a person’s biology does not ‘trump’ a person’s gender identity. Finally, people are born babies: they are not ‘born a man’ or ‘born a woman.’”

The two bills, one which would exclude trans girls from school-sponsored sports and another which would exclude trans women from collegiate sports, ultimately both passed 59-38 on party line votes. 

But both bills are expected to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — so the debate devolved into Democrats begging for Republicans to vote no on the bills so as not to harm trans kids watching the debate and Republicans saying they were outraged by the idea that boys will choose to identify as girls so as to gain an advantage and win competitions. 

Dittrich said she’s had a number of calls from constituents worried about their children playing sports with trans girls. Yet the only examples of trans athletes in Wisconsin she has been able to produce (in a since-deleted tweet) involved amateur adults. 

Dittrich introduced her bills after similar legislation was introduced in Republican-held states across the country. The authors of the bills in other states were also unable to point to examples of trans girls dominating school sports leagues in their states, an Associated Press report found. 

Repeatedly, Democrats noted excluding trans girls from sports could have harmful mental health effects and will likely prevent children from having the often valuable experiences that sports can offer. 

Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay), a former physical education teacher and basketball coach, said she always aimed for her classrooms and gyms to be inclusive and welcoming places for students of all identities and abilities, that she benefited from women’s sports and that allowing trans girls the opportunity to find a place on a team does not threaten the existence of a local high school’s girls basketball team. 

“What is the role our government should serve in regard to this legislation? Trans kids aren’t new, but you know what is new? What’s new is our effort to build a society that actually sees them, that loves them and defends them fiercely,” Shelton said. “I’m going to tell you all as a legislator, as a teacher, as a mom, I wish I could, but I can’t protect kids from getting hurt all of the time. But I can say without a doubt in my bones and in my being, that the Wisconsin State Legislature should not be one of the things that causes our children harm. Everyone counts, folks. But we’re all accountable, and those that vote yes on this bill will be held accountable.” 

If these bills were to become law, organizations such as the NCAA would refuse to hold tournaments and championships in Wisconsin — a rule that has already affected other states. After North Carolina moved to ban transgender people from using public restrooms that align with their gender identity, the governing body of college sports refused to hold events in the state. 

In Wisconsin — following last week’s announcement that the NCAA College Football Playoff could expand to 12 teams and hold games in home stadiums — the passage of these bills could prevent the University of Wisconsin-Madison from holding a playoff game in Camp Randall Stadium, Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) noted. 

Additionally, the NCAA and International Olympic Committee have already long had in place nuanced rules setting out how trans athletes can participate. Yet despite these research-based guidelines, Republicans touted disputed science as the foundation of their argument. 

“This isn’t bigotry, this is science,” Rep. Janel Brantdjen (R-Menomonee Falls) said as she told a story about her days as a high school swimmer who wasn’t as fast as her male classmates. 

And even as the Republicans said they were simply trying to protect the aims of federal Title IX regulations that protect womens’ rights to equal educational opportunities, the administration of President Joe Biden announced that those Title IX protections would be extended to trans and gay students. 

Democrats said they wanted to be spending time debating other, more pressing concerns or the provisions they introduced early Wednesday morning in their “Equality Agenda” to expand rights to LGBTQ Wisconsinites — but instead they spent several hours insisting that despite the actions of Republicans, trans children deserve to be included in the state. 

“I wish we were not having this debate today. I wish that Republicans would focus on the significant, pressing issues that are facing our state, rather than attempting to distract Wisconsinites from their failures to govern by targeting vulnerable children,” Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine), who is bisexual, said. “The road ahead is long, it will not be easy. There is much work left to do. But we will do that work with compassion, with love and with joy. We will stand with our trans youth, and we will not let anyone take away our pride.”