Wisconsin bills seek to ban transgender athletes in women’s sports

A photo of the Wisconsin and American flags flying outside of the State Capitol
Photo by Logan Rude

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Transgender athletes would be banned from participating in girls’ and women’s sports in Wisconsin from kindergarten through college under bills introduced Tuesday by Republican lawmakers, proposals that come as more than a dozen other states consider similar measures.

The Wisconsin proposal faces an almost certain veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers should it pass the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Rep. Barb Dittrich, a Republican from Oconomowoc who introduced the Wisconsin measure, said Evers would be a “sexist” if he doesn’t sign it.

“If the governor is truly for women, why would he not sign something like this?” Dittrich said. “It is wholly unfair for a women to be competing and think she’s only competing against other females.”

Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Supporters argue that transgender girls have an unfair physical advantage. Opponents say such proposals violate not only Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, but also rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents also argue that such bans will further marginalize vulnerable students and hurt the state’s economy by making it more difficult to recruit both athletes and businesses.

Supporters at a news conference announcing the bill, including Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair Cruikshank who appeared via video, said the law change was needed to preserve the integrity of girl and women sports.

“You can’t win against men,” said Rep. Janel Brandtjen, of Menomonee Falls. “That’s the biology, the reality. And honestly, you’ll ruin women’s sports forever. Why would you compete if you knew you couldn’t win? We want a fair playing field.”

Blair Cruikshank, who competed as a speed skater for the United States in four Olympics, winning five gold medals and one bronze medal, said she had to take tests to prove she was a woman and then faced others who were taking performance-enhancing drugs.

“Athletes should not have to compete in an unfair environment and women’s sports should be protected,” she said in the video message.

Wisconsin joins 17 other states considering restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender minors this year, including North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Last year, Idaho became the first state to pass such a ban, but a federal court blocked its enforcement. In Connecticut, several girls are challenging a state law that allows transgender athletes to participate in female sports.

The Wisconsin bills would allow students to join teams only that correspond to their biological sex as assigned by a doctor at birth, unless the sport is classified as “coed.” It would apply to public and private schools, as well as the University of Wisconsin and technical colleges.

The proposals come as a growing number of state high school athletic associations in the U.S. have enabled transgender athletes to play on teams based on their gender identity, and the NCAA has trans-inclusive guidelines for all its member schools.

Democratic President Joe Biden signed an executive order Jan. 20 — the day he took office — that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. Later, he nullified the Trump administration’s ban on transgender military service. Former President Donald Trump had rolled back protections for transgender people while in office.

The Wisconsin bills and others across the country runs counter to Biden’s order. The order immediately sparked a backlash from conservative groups, a split that reflects the deep divisions in the U.S. around transgender youth, leading to the introduction of anti-trans bills by conservative lawmakers.