INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a Republican-backed bill that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity, sending it to the governor to decide whether it will become law.

The state Senate voted 32-18 largely along party lines in favor of the proposal that opponents argue is unconstitutional, sexist and bigoted. If Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signs the bill into law, Indiana would join at least 10 other GOP-led states that have adopted such bans.

The governor’s office declined to comment after the bill passed Tuesday.

Holcomb told reporters last week that he would wait to see the final version before making a decision. He said he “adamantly” agrees that “boys should be playing boys sports and girls should be playing girls sports, and mixed sports should be just that,” referring to a person’s sex at birth.

The governor also pointed to the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), which already has a policy covering transgender students, saying it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on a girls’ team. Although an initial draft of the bill applied the ban to collegiate athletes, language pertaining to postsecondary intuitions was removed from the final version of the bill.

Neither the IHSAA nor the National Collegiate Athletic Association immediately responded to requests for comment.

Seven Republicans joined all 11 Democratic senators in voting against the bill. Those GOP senators were Ron Alting of Lafayette; Eric Bassler of Washington; Phil Boots of Crawfordsville; Liz Brown of Fort Wayne; Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso; Chip Perfect of Lawrenceburg; and Greg Walker of Columbus.

Bill sponsor Sen. Stacey Donato, a Republican from Logansport, said the proposal would protect the integrity of female sports.

“Whether there is one or 100 cases (of transgender students participating in school sports) … all students will be able to play sports,” Donato said. “They simply have to compete with peers of the same biological sex.”

Opponents maintain that the bill wrongly targets already vulnerable transgender youth and is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

IHSAA Commissioner Paul Neidig said the association has received and approved only one application for a transgender student to participate in school sports – a trans boy who wanted to run cross country.

“To me, this bill isn’t about fairness … it’s about being able to waive this bill in the air back in your district, saying that you did something on this topic,” Democratic Sen. J.D. Ford of Indianapolis said Tuesday, emphasizing that the measure is a vehicle to “score political points” at the expense of transgender children.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has said it planned a lawsuit against what it calls “hateful legislation” if it becomes law. Katie Blair, ACLU of Indiana’s advocacy and public policy director, doubled down in a statement Tuesday that the legislation “is hateful, harmful, and appears to violate federal law and the Constitution.”

“This bill singles out trans girls by banning them from participating in girls’ sports, jeopardizing their mental health, physical well-being and ability to access educational opportunities comparable to their peers,” Blair said. “We won’t stop fighting for an Indiana where trans youth are loved and treated equally.”

Corrine Youngs, policy director and legislative counsel to Attorney General Todd Rokita, earlier testified at the Statehouse that Rokita’s office says the bill protects “the amazing progress made for women” in athletics, adding that if it’s challenged, “we will defend it in court.”

The proposal would prohibit K-12 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.

Rep. Michelle Davis, a Republican from Greenwood who authored the bill, said its purpose is to ensure “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.

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.

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