The Monona Grove School Board is showing its support for transgender athletes in the midst of a legislative battle to ban transgender women from participating in female sports.
Board members signed a letter of support for transgender students Wednesday night in response to recent efforts from Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin to pass what they’re calling the ‘Protecting Women in Sports Act.’
Introduced to the state legislature by Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc), the bill package would require school districts and colleges in Wisconsin to divide athletic teams based on ‘biological sex,’ which Dittrich’s proposal has defined as the sex assigned by a medical doctor at birth.
If passed, transgender female students would be prohibited from participating in women’s sports.
“The bill would basically ban transgender youth from sports, from playing on the team of their gender identity, and it would require them to play on the teams of their [biological] sex,” said Susan Fox, Monona Grove School Board member and legislative liaison. “That is in conflict with current WIAA guidelines and NCAA guidelines, and with our understandings of basic human rights and equity.”
Those in the legislature who have backed the bill say that transgender participation in sports is causing biological females to lose opportunities to succeed in sports, saying biological males have a competitive advantage when it comes to athleticism.
Dittrich said allowing transgender athletes to participate in sports not aligned with their biological sex is a “fractured, well-meaning attempt at inclusion.” She said she believes it’s scientific fact that men’s biological bone density, muscle mass, and height are putting female athletes “in great physical danger.”
Board Member Elizabeth Cook said she believes science disagrees with that statement.
“At the moment, there’s no evidence that there’s any [athletic] advantage, and what we know from the research is that this is really affirming, potentially life saving, for our LGBTQ students who are more likely to experience depression… and suicide attempts,” Cook said. “The science doesn’t bore it out, but even if it did, a slight competitive advantage compared to the advantage of having an affirming and safe environment... is no debate in my mind.”
Fox said part of the reason she’s in opposition to the bill is that athletic advantages already exist in sports, and she believes inequities related to gender are no different.
She said some athletes have advantages simply because they’ve been playing longer, or their parents have the money to invest in proper athletic training from a young age.
“There already is not a level playing field for all kids in athletics, in the sense that some parents send their kids to club sports from the time they’re three to four years old and they have far more training than kids who come into a sport in middle school or high school,” she said. “Some parents don’t have the money to do that, so their kids don’t have the same opportunities. This is really no different.”
Board Member Peter Sobol agreed, saying at the end of the day, high school sports aren’t meant to be about winning.
“The idea that trans students have a competitive advantage is ludicrous. If there is a competitive advantage, there’s lots of things that give people competitive advantages but, who cares,” he said. “High school sports are not about winning… it’s about building character.”
The bill, which is still making its way through the legislative process, will need to be signed by Gov. Tony Evers before it can become state law. Fox said she doesn’t see Evers, a Democrat, signing the bill, though Dittrich said if the governor is “truly for women,” he’ll sign it.
On March 2, the same day Dittrich announced the bill, Evers wrote in a statement on Twitter, “My message to Wisconsin’s transgender kids and students today is simple: I see you. You are welcome, and you belong.”
Fox, who brought the statement of support to the board, said it’s important for the school board to make this show of support for its LGBTQ students.
“It’s making a statement on behalf of our students, which I think is important,” said Fox. “[Trans] kids have the same right as every other kid to participate in these sports. To me, it’s a basic human right.”
Now that it’s been signed and adopted, the school board’s resolution will be sent to the state legislature. You can read the full letter on the school district’s website.