The House of Representatives on Friday afternoon passed the Equality Act, a historic bill which is written to guarantee non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people at the federal level. The vote was 236 to 173.
Its passage in the House, however, hardly means that discrimination is soon to be a thing of the past. The bill will face vehement opposition in the Senate, and its opponents in that body will likely take their cues from their counterparts who participated in the hearing before the House vote — which was a notable cesspool of queerphobia. Republican congressmen in particular swamped the proceedings with risible ideas, including a feigned concern over the sanctity of women’s sports — shamelessly exploiting a paranoid strain of transphobia to argue that the Equality Act would kill women’s sports forever.
“The threat that this bill possesses for women’s sports at every level is profound,” said Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL).
“[The Equality Act] will eliminate — Eliminate! — women’s and girl’s’ sports by requiring that men and boys be allowed to compete in women’s and girls’ sports,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ).
Wrong. These shoddy arguments are based, loosely, on the fact that the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of both gender identity and sexual orientation. This would impact Title IX, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in public education, and which has forced schools receiving federal funding to provide equitable resources for boys’ and girls’ sports. Since the Equality Act would include gender identity, that would mean that a trans woman could compete against other women (or girls, depending on her age).
Even though this is already happening on the grassroots level all over the country and women’s sports continue to thrive, opponents of the Equality Act have decided to hit the panic button.
“Wherever these laws are imposed, biological males have begun to dominate women’s competitions,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA).
McClintock cited exactly one example of this domination, in Connecticut, where there are two trans girls winning state track competitions. There are currently nondiscrimination laws in 21 states and the District of Columbia. And yet, the hysteria surrounding trans women in sports continues, creating chaos and confusion. In one such article on this issue, Breitbart News used a photo of Mack Beggs, a transgender man who wants to be able to wrestle against other men, but who is forced to wrestle against women because of Texas laws that require athletes to compete under the gender on their birth certificate. The Equality Act would actually help Breggs.
Steube and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) also used the words of tennis legend and lauded social justice advocate Martina Navratilova to argue why the Equality Act would be bad for Title IX. Earlier this year, in an op-ed for the Sunday Times, Navratilova perpetuated transphobic myths while questioning whether there is even a place in sports for transgender women.
“‘Allowing transgender women in women’s sports is cheating. To put the argument at its most basic, a man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organization is concerned, win everything in sight, perhaps win a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires,” she wrote.
“It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.”
Navratilova has since attempted to clarify that her statements were only meant to apply to elite athletes. And yet she co-wrote a piece for the Washington Post arguing that the Equality Act would be dangerous to Title IX, and her words were read in the congressional hearing on the bill. The damage to the transgender community — and, by extension, the LGBTQ community at large — has been done.
Suffice it to say, the leading advocates in women’s sports do not agree with Navratilova’s position. Organizations such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, National Women’s Law Center, National Organization for Women, and End Rape on Campus, among others, have all offered their full support to the Equality Act.
“Just as opponents of equality claimed that cisgender women and girls would be harmed if transgender people could use restrooms that match who they are, opponents are now claiming that the need to ‘protect’ cisgender women and girls in athletics justifies opposition to nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in public spaces and activities,” these groups said in an open letter released last month.
“As organizations that fight every day for equal opportunities for all women and girls, we speak from experience and expertise when we say that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people—including women and girls who are transgender—are not at odds with women’s equality or well-being, but advance them.”
The good news, of course, is that the bill did end up passing through the House. For at least a moment, common sense and acceptance triumphed.
“No trans person is trying to game the system to participate in sports. That does not happen, and that is a sad scare tactic that has no place on the floor of the people’s house,” said Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA), who received a round of applause from people in the House when she spoke at the hearing.
“I can’t believe that we’re standing here and having a man tell me what kind of protections I need in sports.”