‘No one is asking for this’: LGBTQ advocates lash transgender sports bill

Screen shot from anti-trans press conference; Harrisburg, PA

Pennsylvania’s transgender community is pushing back against a Republican-backed bill in the state House that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in interscholastic athletics.

And one member of the region’s transgender community also says she’ll be mounting an electoral challenge to the bill’s prime sponsor.

Janelle Crossley, a transgender woman, told the Penn Capital-Star that she’s looking to a 2022 rematch with Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland. In 2020, Crossley lost to Gleim by a margin of 21,678-12,431, according to Ballotpedia.com.

About 25 people joined Crossley and the progressive advocacy group Cumberland Valley Rising in a protest outside Gleim’s Carlisle office after the bill was announced.

The bill is also sponsored by Reps. Martina A. White, R-Philadelphia, Dawn W. Keefer, R-York, Valerie S. Gaydos, R-Allegheny, and Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton.

Pennsylvania’s bill joins 82 other pieces of anti-trans legislation filed across the nation as of March 13, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Wyatt Ronan. That number surpasses 79 anti-trans bills introduced in 2020.

Proponents of the bill cite an unfair advantage transgender athletes may have over cis-gendered athletes. Opponents of the bill cite the legislation as a solution in search of a problem.

“There have not been any cases of transgender girls dominating sports leagues. We have seen high anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts from rejection of someone’s gender identity,” Crossley told the Capital-Star.

Crossley says she thinks “legislators need to work on the issues that truly impact young people and women in sports like lower pay to female athletes, less media coverage for women’s sports and cultural environments that lead to high dropout rates for diverse athletes, instead of creating problems and ‘solutions’ that hurt the kids we’re supposed to be protecting.”

“Playing sports is not all about winning, it is how you play the game, learning, and teamwork,” she added.

Joanne Carroll, the executive director of Trans Advocacy Pennsylvania, and a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affair told the Capital-Star that “there is no evidence that transgender females have any physical advantage over cisgender females. This is a solution to an imagined problem. This is put forward to create another wedge issue for the culture wars.”

Carroll frames the anti-trans bill in Pennsylvania and those introduced nationwide within recent queer civil rights benchmarks.

The U.S. Supreme Court has “has not been kind to the GOP. Marriage equality was lost to them because of Obergefell v. Hodges, (marriage-equality) and abortion remains a heartburn in spite of Roe v. Wade, because they’ve lost a myriad of state challenges. They are still smarting over Bostock v. Clayton County,” Carroll told the Capital-Star, referring to the high court’s 6-3 decision in June 2020 finding that the Civil Rights Act covered discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“As a former women’s swim team member in high school, I care about protecting women’s sports and know that transgender girls in no way threaten them,” Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, the first out LGBTQ woman in the General Assembly, said. “This bill is a complete invasion of young people’s privacy in response to a non-existent issue. It’s also likely an unconstitutional violation of transgender people’s rights.”

Tyler Titus, the first transgender person elected to public office when they won a seat on the Erie School Board in 2017, told the Capital-Star that “Pennsylvania GOP has officially jumped on board the national trend of hateful anti-trans legislation. They target the most vulnerable with culture wars because they believe it’s good politics, and that our ability to live fulfilled lives is something worth sacrificing.

“As the first trans person ever elected in Pennsylvania history, I know bigotry when I see it,” Titus said, adding, “Hate may be the Pennsylvania GOP’s platform, but it’s not Pennsylvania’s. We will defeat this effort because this is not who we are,” Titus said.

Karen Foley, the executive director of the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition, told the Capital-Star she thought the bill was “poorly crafted and a scientifically baseless argument that allowing trans athletes to compete forces girls to compete against biological boys.”

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress calls the bill “a dangerous bill targeting transgender children…While we are confident this bill will not pass, its introduction in our state sends a devastating message to trans children and youth.

“Trans youth deserve inclusion and respect. Enough with taking cheap political points at the expense of the very lives of trans youth,” Preston Heldibridle the PYC’s State Policy Associate, said. “We are your children, students, and community members, not the boogeyman. Talk with us. Please take the time to learn about why this exclusionary bill is so hurtful and damaging – and far removed from the reality of school athletics in Pennsylvania.”

Further, Heldibridle shared, “The truth is that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections and want us to continue moving our Commonwealth forward to be more inclusive. There are countless examples of trans students playing school sports without any issues and full affirmation by other athletes.”

Kristy Snow, the president of TransCentralPA, told the Capital-Star she’s not aware of any problems.

“I am not aware of any in the state. They are fabricating a problem that does not exist,” she said. She also posits that “the vast majority of Pennsylvanians support children rights and want to see all children succeed. They will not support a handful of misguided and uninformed lawmakers to dehumanize and discriminate against a group of kids who just want to have fun playing sports.”

Tesla Taliaferro, the president of the Rainbow Rose Center, is a trans man. He told the Capital-Star that “We encourage the inclusion of transgender students in the sports that align with their gender identity, and we are always willing to engage with and educate school administrators on this topic if they have questions.”

School sports teach a great many lessons that impact a student athlete long after their athletic days are over – a sense of community and belonging, a belief in one’s abilities, loyalty to others, and increased organizational skills, Taliaferro noted.

“These lessons should not be denied to anyone, especially on the basis of ignorance. Scientific evidence has shown that transgender women do not have a competitive advantage over those who are assigned female at birth. Our representatives should rely on science and facts rather than opinion to create laws,” Taliaferro said.

Long-time supporter of queer civil rights, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said in a news release “that representatives who truly are tapped into their youth sports communities know that teams and leagues have overwhelmingly welcomed trans athletes, accepted them for who they are, and quickly gotten to the business of training to improve skills and bonding to build relationships.”

“Truly, nobody is asking for this. It was dreamed up in a laboratory of wedge issues, not on a soccer field or at a swim practice. This is about campaign fundraising, not girls or women or sports,” Frankel said.

Originally published on April 7, 2021 by Penn Capital-Star. Republished with permission.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com.

Frank Pizzoli is the former editor and publisher of the Central Voice, the former Harrisburg LGBTQ newspaper.