Pennsylvania governor says trans sports ban vote is a ‘waste of time’: ‘It won’t get past my desk’

Trans people and allies rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2018 before marching to demand basic human and civil rights

Lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House have passed a bill that would ban trans students from competing in girls’ and women’s sports – despite the governor’s promise to veto it.

House Bill 972 (HB 972) would prohibit trans girls from participating in girls’ and women’s athletics at publicly-funded schools, “public institutions of higher education” and any school or institution where “students or teams compete against a public school”. 

The controversial bill passed in the state’s House by a 115-84 vote on Tuesday (12 April). A lone Republican voted against it, while four Democrats crossed lines to vote in support of the anti-trans bill, CNN reported. 

The bill will now make its way through the Republican-controlled Senate, but HB 972 may be ultimately doomed to fail. Governor Tom Wolf has vowed to veto “transphobic legislation” pushed by GOP lawmakers in the state. 

“As states across the country push transphobic legislation, some Republicans in the General Assembly are wasting time attempting the same in Pennsylvania,” Wolf wrote on Twitter. “It won’t get past my desk.”

The Democratic governor also promised to veto HB 972, which he described as “discriminatory”, last year as the bill made its way through the state legislature.

The Pennsylvania bill comes as the inclusion of trans youth in school athletics has become a flashpoint in US politics, and over a dozen states have passed legislation restricting the ability for trans kids to play on school sports teams. 

Ryan Matthews, Pennsylvania state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the bill “serves one purpose” – to “advance self-serving political objectives” of anti-LGBT+ lawmakers at the “expense” of trans youth”. 

Matthews said lawmakers in the state’s House knew the legislation “isn’t going anywhere” – given Wolf’s promise to veto it – and called on the Senate to now “reject this bigoted attack”. 

“This kind of legislation, which targets a marginalised population without doing any good whatsoever, is simply part of a coordinated, nationwide campaign aiming to incite hatred and attract extremist votes, and it has no place in this state,” Matthews added. 

The Pennsylvania legislation also comes after Lia Thomas, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, became the first trans athlete to win an NCAA Division I title in March. Thomas, who came in first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event, has faced mounting vitriol as she has become the centre of the debate on trans women’s participation in sports. 

Republican state representative Barb Gleim, who is the prime sponsor of HB 972, spoke about Thomas during the debate around the legislation, NBC Philadelphia reported. 

Gleim claimed that allowing trans girls to compete in girls’ sports gives them an “immense unfair advantage” and alleged that Thomas’ win ‘decimated an entire league’ in women’s sports. 

However, hundreds of top swimmers have rallied behind Thomas, saying in an open letter that they “support and welcome transgender and non-binary athletes in our sport”

Olympic silver medalist Erica Sullivan, who recently competed against Thomas, has also declared that all athletes “deserve to be respected and included, exactly as we are”. She wrote in an op-ed for Newsweek that Thomas has been “unfairly targeted” for “being who she is”. 

The openly queer swimmer also condemned those pushing anti-trans legislation in the name of ‘protecting women’s sports’. 

“As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources and a lack of women in leadership,” Sullivan declared. “Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list.”