Here's why a bill to ban transgender athletes in Pennsylvania won't become law

Candy Woodall
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

HARRISBURG—There are 31 states considering bills that would ban transgender athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity, but Pennsylvania is not one of them.

Conservative lawmakers have recently argued that they are trying to "restore fairness" in youth sports by forcing transgender athletes to compete only on teams that align with the sex they were born with. 

The GOP-led Pennsylvania House and Senate have not introduced bills like that, but they wouldn't get far if they did. 

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, "would veto this type of legislation," said the governor's spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger. 

Governors in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have already signed transgender sports bans into law, and similar legislation is progressing in other states. 

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The overwhelming majority of bills in other states specifically targets girls and women.

For example, North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Brody said during a news conference last week that his legislation will prevent cisgender female athletes from being "pushed out of female sports, and all of their records are broken, scholarships lost and benefits of excelling are diminishing before this is addressed."

Brody couldn't name one example of a transgender athlete breaking records of a cisgender athlete in North Carolina, nor could a dozen other lawmakers in states where such legislation was introduced, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on Thursday March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.

The AP's reporting revealed there's no count being kept by high school or college athletic associations. States that are counting have found low numbers, such as give students in Kansas and nine in Ohio during a five-year period.

Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe in a Washington Post column described bills targeting transgender athletes as "attempting to solve a problem that doesn't exist."

"As a woman who has played sports my whole life, I know that the threats to women’s and girls’ sports are lack of funding, resources and media coverage; sexual harassment; and unequal pay," she said.

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While Pennsylvania is not currently considering transgender athlete bans like those Rapinoe is fighting against, the state does not have strong protections in place for the transgender community. 

There's no state law that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender. There's no legal protection against hate crimes and bullying, and "conversion therapy" is still legal in the state. 

Pennsylania for years had the lowest marks from the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. Last year, the state moved up a ranking to "building equality."

Some of Wolf's executive orders and other initiatives have helped the state get better marks from LGBTQ advocates.

For example, in 2018, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission began accepting complaints from LGBTQ people who said they faced sex discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation allows motorists to choose male, female or "X" for non-binary on their driver's licenses.

And the state in 2018 changed its birth certificates to list two "parent" spaces and removed the traditional "mother" and "father" designations.

Any progress the state has made on LGBTQ issues has been through executive action, not a collaborative effort between the governor's office and state Legislature. 

Wolf has called for the passage of a state anti-discrimination law, but the state GOP leaders have not answered that call. 

In the meantime, more than 40 municipalities in Pennsylvania have completed their own ordinances to prevent gender discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

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Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at, 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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