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Bishops Urge Congress to Pass Legislation Banning Transgender Athletes from Girls’ Sports

The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington Oct. 2, 2022. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

WASHINGTON — The leaders of two U.S. bishops’ committees sent a letter of support on March 3 to congressional leaders who have introduced legislation to ban transgender athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s team sports. 

The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023 was introduced on Feb. 1 in the House by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Florida, and in the Senate on March 1 by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama. Similar legislation was introduced last year but did not pass. 

The congressional leaders have said this legislation seeks to preserve Title IX protections for female athletes and ensure fair, safe competition in women’s sports across the country. They have also stressed that it would amend Title IX — the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination — to recognize sex as that which is “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” 

The bishops’ letter, addressed to Steube and Tuberville, said their support for this legislation is consistent with the “Church’s clear teaching on the equality of men and women” and that in education and sports, “we must seek to avoid anything that undermines human dignity, including denial of a person’s body which is genetically and biologically female or male, or unequal treatment between women and men.”

The letter was signed by Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, and by Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.

The bishops said the proposed legislation would “help ensure the continued viability of Title IX” of the Education Amendments of 1972. 

They stressed that “equal treatment between women and men has particular relevance in athletics, where male competition in activities designated for women and girls can be both unfair and, especially in high-contact sports, unsafe. 

“In general,” they added, “males possess distinct physical advantages in a number of sports, and this is already playing out in athletic events worldwide. Their stature and strength can also pose physical safety concerns in high-contact sports.”

The bishops said these challenges are “increasingly common as, sadly, the number of persons experiencing gender identity discordance rises steeply, especially among adolescents.” 

They said those who “experience gender identity discordance” should have the right to participate in, or try out for, student athletics on the same terms as their peers and “should be assured, in coeducational activities, or where the sexes are separated, in accord with their biological sex. 

“Harassment or unjust discrimination is unequivocally wrong,” the bishops wrote. They also said that “a loving response which affirms the value of all persons as fellow human beings helps those who experience gender identity discordance to attain peace with their mind and body, rather than facilitating drastic ‘transitions’ in pursuit of an identity fully independent of their physical body.”

In their letter, Bishops Barron and Daly said they were encouraged that 18 states have enacted similar laws to protect women’s and girls’ opportunities in sports and that on the federal level, the measure gained significant support in the previous session of Congress.

The bishops said they appreciate the opportunity to support this legislation and “urge your respective colleagues to sign on as cosponsors and otherwise support this important measure.” 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, has indicated his support for the legislation, which has a better chance of passing with the current Republican majority in the House. 

Steube, in a statement after introducing the bill in February, said the measure “ensures women and girls a fair playing field in competitive sports. 

“Allowing biological males to participate in women’s sports is a complete affront to the hardworking women and girls who have spent their lives training to achieve their dreams,” he added.

The legislation could offset plans by the Biden administration to finalize Title IX rules in May directing how federally funded schools and colleges handle sex and gender discrimination, but the administration has said it will issue a separate rule on the topic of transgender student participation in sports teams.