Pennsylvania governor vetoes ‘discriminatory, unnecessary and harmful’ anti-trans sports bill

Governor Tom Wolf attends the ByHeart infant formula facility ribbon cutting

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has vetoed a “discriminatory, unnecessary and harmful” anti-trans sports ban.

On Friday (8 July), Wolf refused to sign House Bill 972 which would have barred trans girls from participating in girls and women’s athletics at publicly-funded schools and at any institution where students or teams compete against public schools.

HB 972 was passed in April by the House of Representatives with a 115-84 vote before gliding through the Senate. It would have also given schools the power to sue athletes or have regulators if they were penalised for barring trans athletes. 

Students who felt retaliated against by a school or athletic association for reporting violations of the law would have similarly been given the power to seek legal action.

But Wolf said HB 972 would have penalised trans and non-binary youth for simply existing.

“I have been crystal clear during my time in office that hate has no place in Pennsylvania, especially discrimination against already marginalized youth representing less than half of one per cent of Pennsylvania’s population,” said Wolf said in a statement on the governor’s website.

“The fact that this bill passed through Pennsylvania’s Republican-led General Assembly solely to bully and oppress vulnerable children is atrocious.

“These members should be ashamed of themselves for proposing and voting on policies that are ​discriminatory, unnecessary, and incredibly harmful.”

In a letter to the House of Representatives, Wolf said his administration is committed to uplifting trans people – trans athletes included. If the bill was passed it would have plunged Pennsylvania into choppy legal waters, he said, as the ban would have been in conflict with federal discrimination law.

US President Joe Biden (R) and Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf have both opposed anti-trans sports bans. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

He wrote: “To the LGBTQ+ community in Pennslyvania and around the country, and especially to our transgender and non-binary youth and young people: I see you, I support you, I respect you and I stand with you.”

The bill was doomed from the beginning. Within days of the House passing HB 972, Wolf pledged to scrap it the second it landed on his desk.

Wolf may have felt a sense of déjà-vu, considering that Republican state legislators had tried and failed to ban trans athletes already the year before.

HB 972 was just one of the countless attempts – some successful – by Republican lawmakers to ban or heavily restrict trans people from sports.

Nearly 20 US states have enacted laws or issued statewide rules on trans people running, kicking balls and swimming in a pool, according to legislative tracker Freedom for All Americans.

Despite how backers of the bill often struggle to come up with actual evidence to support why such bans are needed, they have nevertheless driven a cruel campaign to take aim at the rights of trans young people.

Such bans are not supported by science, experts warn, while activists say the laws instead rely on tired myths around trans people and sports.

Lia Thomas, a former swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, has become something of a flash point for the so-called “debate”. Her successes – but not so much her failures – have been used as a justification to make trans athletes ineligible to compete in women’s sports.

“Having seen such hateful attacks on trans rights through legislation,” Thomas told ABC in May, “fighting for trans rights and trans equality is something that I’ve become much more passionate about and want to pursue.”