INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A Republican-backed bill that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity drew hours of testimony at the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday as lawmakers considered whether to move the legislation forward.
Legislators in the Senate education committee weighed the ban after the House advanced the bill last month, largely along party lines. Senators did not vote on the measure, but a committee vote could take place next week.
Opponents testified that the bill is unconstitutional, sexist and bigoted, emphasizing that it targets already vulnerable transgender Hoosier youth.
Connie Thompson, a 22-year-old transgender woman from Martinsville, Indiana, called the bill “unfair” and said it “ruins the whole spirit of sport.”
“There is no epidemic of trans girls dominating girls sports. It’s a made up, non-problem just to attack us,” she said.
Dr. Lauren Bell, an Indianapolis pediatrician representing the Indiana Academy of Pediatrics, said the proposal “runs counter” to the “well being of all children,” and that it would be “detrimental” to the sense of community and inclusion that transgender youth need.
“Passing a law banning children in Indiana from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity would be a detrimental example of ongoing refusal to recognize the gender identities of these children,” Bell said. “Transgender children, like all other children, want to belong. Taking away opportunities to foster that sense of belonging harms our state’s children and has no place in Indiana.”
Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford of Indianapolis joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and other opponents of the bill during a statehouse rally on Wednesday, denouncing the proposal.
“Just filing this bill sends a message to our trans kids that you do not belong in our state. And that is so far from the truth,” Ford said. “This bill should just be put into the garbage can where it belongs.”
Ford and representatives from the Human Rights Campaign called out Republican lawmakers on Tuesday for partnering on the bill with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization that supports conservative Christian causes.
The group has provided legal counsel for various efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights and has successfully lobbied for anti-transgender legislation — including bans on transgender athletes — in other states.
Ford maintained on Wednesday that the ADF is a “hate group,” adding that the legislation is part of a nationwide “culture war” agenda.
Matt Sharp, senior counsel with the ADF, did not address those claims when testifying before the Senate committee on Wednesday, but said that the group supported the bill “to ensure fairness” in school sports. He noted that the ADF was also seeking to add back language into the bill that would expand the ban to include college athletics.
“Women deserve to compete on a level playing field, and allowing males to compete in women’s sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities,” Sharp said. “It’s constitutional to provide separate programs that recognize the differences between the sexes.”
Another ADF official strongly rejected Ford’s characterization. It is not a hate group but “is among the largest and most effective legal advocacy organizations dedicated to protecting the religious freedom and free speech rights of all Americans,” Jeremy Tedesco, ADF’s senior counsel, said in a letter to The Associated Press.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said last week that it wasn’t clear if GOP senators would advance the bill out of the committee, but acknowledged its support among social conservatives.
The proposal would prohibit students who were born male but identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for women or girls. But it wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender men from playing on men’s sports teams.
Republican Rep. Michelle Davis of Greenwood, who authored the bill, said its purpose is to “maintain fair competition in girls’ sports.”
Former Indiana Republican Rep. Christy Stutzman proposed similar legislation in 2020, although the bill did not advance from the House education committee.
Democrats have maintained that such bills are “discriminatory” and “harmful to kids.” They also contend that the Indiana High School Athletic Association already has a policy that requires transgender girls who want to play sports to show they’ve completed hormone therapy, and that their muscle mass or bone density is typical of other girls the same age.
If the bill passes the Legislature, Indiana could be the 11th Republican-dominated state to adopt such a ban on transgender women or girls. In two of those states — Idaho and West Virginia — the laws have been halted by federal judges. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged bans in other states, slamming them as violations of federal law.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.