Transgender girls in Indiana, regardless of their physical characteristics or gender identity, are prohibited by law from participating in girls athletics or sports teams at all public and private elementary, middle and high schools beginning July 1.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly on Tuesday enacted into law House Enrolled Act 1041, notwithstanding a veto by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The veto override, which takes in Indiana the same 50%-plus-one needed to send legislation to the governor in the first place, easily was approved by a 67-28 margin in the House, and 32-15 in the Senate — a nearly identical result to its original passage in March, except for some absences.
All Northwest Indiana Republican lawmakers supported the measure, except state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who joined all Region Democrats, except state Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, in opposing it.
The new law was challenged in federal court mere moments after enactment by the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex.
Under the statute, trans girls who were assigned male at birth are barred from playing on a girls athletics team in kindergarten through 12th grade, and the parents of girls who believe their child was deprived of an athletics opportunity because of a trans girl’s participation are authorized to sue their school for monetary damages.
State Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland, the sponsor of the legislation, said it will ensure “a fair and equal opportunity to compete for Hoosier girls.”
“Today, we voted for fairness, opportunity and safety. This issue stems from Hoosier parents like me who are concerned about our female athletes, and their opportunities to compete, earn top spots and obtain scholarships. This law is a commonsense approach to protect and preserve the integrity of girls’ sports,” Davis said.
There currently are zero trans girls participating in girls’ high school sports in Indiana. The new law does not apply to women’s college or professional athletics, nor does it prevent trans boys from playing on boys’ sports teams.
Holcomb said those facts, along with the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) already having strict rules in place to ensure fair competition in school sports, were among the provisions that prompted his veto.
“The presumption of the policy laid out in House Enrolled Act 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention. It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb said.
State Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, the Senate sponsor of the measure, said it doesn’t matter to her whether there are 1 or 100 trans girls playing girls’ sports, any trans girls impede fair competition because “biological males” have inherent physical advantages over “biological females.”
The trans sports issue has become something of a cause célèbre among social conservatives still smarting over the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015.
For example, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, all but stripped Holcomb of his Republican label because of the governor’s veto, likening the former chairman of the Indiana Republican Party to “woke” liberals and “left-wing radicals” in an opinion column published Tuesday in Fort Wayne.
“Holcomb’s squeamishness typifies the Republican Party of old: good mostly for passing tax cuts and not being Democrats, but not much else. Unfortunately, that is wholly inadequate for this moment,” Banks said.
“We are up against an insane movement that denies biological reality and, even worse, wants to use government institutions to indoctrinate our children with a deluge of propaganda and nonsense. No ‘truce’ is possible in this position, nor would it be desirable given the stakes.”
Back at the Statehouse, Senate Democrats said it’s unconscionable Republicans are targeting children for discrimination, using the force of law to tell transgender children already uncertain about their place in the world they don’t matter and can’t even play sports with their friends.
“It’s blatantly discriminatory what we’re doing here,” said Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. “Throwing children under the bus to gain support from voters is not what we’re here to do. These are children!”
State Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said of all the problems facing Hoosier families, from high gas and food prices to unaffordable housing to a minimum wage unchanged from $7.25 per hour since 2009, she can’t believe Republicans convened an extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly just “to make children feel bad about themselves.”
“This bill is in no way a solution to a problem. This bill is a problem,” Yoder said.
The Indiana ACLU agreed. It filed suit on behalf of A.M., a 10-year-old transgender girl who no longer will be allowed to play on her Indianapolis school’s all-girl softball team once the law goes into effect, according to court records.
“When my daughter learned about this law, she was hurt and angry,” said A.M.’s mother. “She wants to stand up for girls like her, as well as herself, because she knows how upset they are right now. She wanted me to share that, ‘We can’t expect kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance and Liberty and Justice for All while not giving liberty and justice to all.'”
Ken Falk, Indiana ACLU legal director, said girls like A.M. simply want to access the same opportunities as their peers and denying them that right jeopardizes their mental health and physical well-being.
“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students — including trans people — on the basis of sex and it denies the promise of the Constitution of equal protection under the law,” Falk said.
Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Munster native, said he’s eager to defend the statute in court because he believes it’s “an important step in protecting youth sports,” and Holcomb’s concern about the state inevitably losing in court is “BS.”
“Hoosiers won’t be bullied by woke groups threatening girls’ sports. We won’t kow-tow to left-wing special interests and the Biden administration undermining equality in our state,” Rokita said. “By caving and vetoing this bill, the governor made clear that appeasing these woke special interests means more to him than equal opportunity for Hoosier girls.”
The veto override wasn’t the only action taken by the General Assembly Tuesday. The official reason for the Legislature convening a rare, one-day session following its March 9 adjournment was to make minor, technical corrections to new state laws before they take effect July 1.
To that end, the House and Senate agreed to dispense with their usual multi-day procedures for enacting a new law and overwhelmingly approved Senate Enrolled Act 418, eliminating duplicate and conflicting statutory provisions, and correcting several spelling and reference errors in the Indiana Code.
Holcomb is expected to promptly sign the noncontroversial technical corrections measure into law in the next week or so.
The General Assembly could convene again in special session later this year depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a pending Mississippi case relating to abortion rights.
In March, 100 Republican Indiana lawmakers signed a letter to Holcomb urging him to bring the Legislature back to the Statehouse immediately if the nation’s high court gives the go-ahead for states to further restrict, or outright prohibit, access to abortion.
The governor has said he’s waiting for the Supreme Court ruling to come out before deciding whether to call a special session. He also could leave the abortion issue for the General Assembly to tackle when it begins its regular, annual session in January.
Statehouse Democrats separately have urged Holcomb to call a special legislative session to temporarily suspend Indiana’s 32 cents per gallon gasoline tax and 24 cents per gallon sales tax on gasoline to give Hoosiers a break at the pump amid soaring fuel prices and record-setting state tax revenue.
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