HARRISBURG, Pa. — Tuesday afternoon the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed HB 972, a bill that bans transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s school sports. After nearly two hours of debate, the roll call vote was 115 to 84. Four Democratic Representatives voted in favor of the ban against transgender students: Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria), Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), and Rep. Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence). Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) was the sole Republican House member to vote against the ban.
A companion bill, SB 1191, quickly made its way through the Senate Education Committee on Monday. It has not yet been slated to run on the Senate floor at this time. Governor Tom Wolf (D) has promised to veto should it make it to his desk. However, the impact of these floor votes remains heartbreaking to trans youth and their families.
15-year-old Lily Freeman called the ban “hurtful and destructive,” saying the bill is, “about stripping away the connection that girls have to each other. People in power are stripping away the definition of what it means to be a woman. Pennsylvania is my home. We are trans people. We are here. And we are never going away.”
During passionate debate on the floor, Rep. Joe Hohenstein (D-Philadelphia) spoke personally on the bill, saying, “My child is trans. This piece of legislation attacks my child, and others like them, simply because of who they are and how they choose to express their humanity. You are rejecting the humanity of children like mine. If you believe you are protecting other children, all you are doing is keeping all of our children from being able to experience the full range of the human experience, the full depth that we get, when we have our children engaged in competitive sport.”
Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) said, “This is an issue that our trans youth deal with all the time…to have the adults in their lives be the ones that are attacking them. We as adults have the opportunity to decide: will we focus on things like a trans sports ban that hurts vulnerable kids, or will we work toward creating communities where all feel welcome, accepted, and loved the way they are? This isn’t about protecting sports. This is about protecting kids. We cannot be their abusers. What this does is codify willful ignorance into law, and we can and we should do so much better.”
Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said, “This is an incredibly sad day for the General Assembly, and more importantly, for the thousands of kids, parents, and community members who will have to face the consequences of today’s vote in their daily lives. The House has weaponized an attack against trans children and youth for political points. Transgender kids want to play sports for the same reasons all athletes do: to make friends, to build confidence and leadership skills, to be physically active, and to be a part of a team. Trans girls are as equally deserving of these opportunities as their cisgender peers. They do not deserve to be routinely and pointlessly scapegoated by adult politicians during primary election season.”
From the Trevor Project, 85% of transgender youth say that recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health, and 52% of trans youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year — with 20% making a suicide attempt in the past year. According to PRRI in a poll published last month, 80% of Pennsylvanians support LGBT nondiscrimination protections.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been working the past several weeks in partnership with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Eastern PA Trans Equity Project, and the Human Rights Campaign to educate legislators on the impact of HB 972 and the importance of trans inclusion in Pennsylvania schools.