Wisconsin Assembly passes transgender sports restrictions, gender-affirming care ban

MADISON, Wisc. — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly passed legislation on Thursday banning gender-affirming care for minors and barring transgender athletes from competing in sports at the high school and college levels.

The three transgender-related bills were approved in a 63-35 vote, with all Democrats voting against the measures and nearly all Republicans voting for the measures. Democratic Wisconsin Gov. has vowed to veto the legislation.

“We continue to see harmful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Wisconsin—rhetoric that emboldens hate and violence and that we know only hurts our kids who are already facing significant mental health challenges,” Evers said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Thursday. “We’re going to stop these attacks, and we’re going to do it together.”

Two of the bills would prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in high school and college sports teams. Instead, students would have to play on teams that match the gender they were assigned at birth.

The third bill would bar doctors from providing gender-transition treatment to minors, such as performing gender-affirming surgery or providing hormones and puberty blockers.

The bills are moving quickly, hitting the Assembly floor a week after heated public hearings drew hundreds to the state Capitol. The legislation now moves on to the Republican-controlled state Senate. If it passes then the package will head to Evers’ desk.

The highly contentious legislation comes amid a barrage of bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community, including limiting the rights of transgender youths, across the United States. Republican lawmakers have faced intense pushback and criticism from the LGBTQ+ community along with advocates, prompting discrimination lawsuits in many states.

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People listen to the debate over a bill prohibiting transgender women and girls from competing on women's sports teams in the Assembly Thursday, October 12, 2023 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. Republicans argue the bills would ensure competitiveness in women's sports and prevent transgender individuals from regretting medical procedures — though reviews of research find regretting a gender transition is uncommon. Advocates representing the LGBTQ community testified that the proposals would harm transgender and nonbinary youth in Wisconsin and worsen the mental health challenges and stigma they face.

Assembly Speaker: GOP legislators think legislation is ‘right’ for Wisconsin

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters the Assembly is pursuing the legislation because Republican lawmakers “think they’re the right thing to do for Wisconsin” and suggested the opinions of medical experts will change. Vos also likened gender-affirming surgery to lobotomies ahead of the debate on Thursday.

“If you go back in history, the way to treat mental illness 50 to 100 years ago was a lobotomy. And at the time, that was settled science. That was just the way it was supposed to be,” Vos said. “We can go back to example after example after example where the human mind has been opened to say there are different ways of doing things and it shouldn’t necessarily be a one-size-fits-all solution because we have settled science.”

Democrats pushed back on Vos’ rhetoric during an Assembly floor session Thursday and said allowing transgender athletes to compete in sports that match their gender fosters acceptance and belonging.

“The fact that legislators are creating an environment that pushes specific groups of children out of existence and sports teams in service to a political agenda is objectively terrible, it’s discriminatory and it’s cruel,” said Wisconsin State Rep. Lee Snodgrass.

Advocates say proposals would harm transgender, nonbinary youth

At the Capitol hearings, advocates representing the LGBTQ+ community testified that the proposals would harm transgender and nonbinary youth in Wisconsin, and worsen the mental health challenges and stigma they face.

Republicans argued the bills would ensure competitiveness in women’s sports and prevent transgender individuals from regretting medical procedures — though reviews of research find regretting a gender transition is uncommon. GOP lawmakers made similar remarks during Thursday’s floor session.

“Men have major physical advantages. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster,” said Wisconsin State Rep. Joel Kitchens. “Title IX was created so that women can have the same access to the same advantages, the same character building that takes place [in sports] that men always have experienced.”

In a letter circulated last week, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly cited data from the state’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey that found more than half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide and nearly a quarter attempted to take their own life.

“Let’s show respect to every single individual in the state, let’s stop interfering with their access to the medical care that they need,” Wisconsin Rep. Lisa Subeck said earlier this week before voting against one of the bills in committee. “It’s time to stop pretending that politicians know better than physicians and know better than the experts. We don’t.”

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Multiple state groups oppose legislation

Several groups in Wisconsin have registered in opposition to the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the American Pediatrics Academy’s Wisconsin chapter and the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) also opposes the ban on transgender girls and women from competing in sports designated for women. And University of Wisconsin-Madison officials previously warned that the university’s teams would be out of compliance with NCAA policies if the legislation is enacted.

The WIAA’s current policy for transgender participation in sports requires transgender athletes to undergo hormone therapy before they can play on the teams of their choice. The association’s policy is derived from existing policies for transgender athletes from the NCAA.

Nearly dozens of states have passed bills targeting transgender youths

Since 2022, GOP legislators have introduced dozens of bills aimed to prevent transgender youth from participating in school sports that are consistent with their gender identity, according to LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.

“By the end of the 2022 legislative session, a record 17 bills attacking transgender and non-binary children passed into law. 19 states exclude transgender athletes in school sports,” the advocacy group said in a news release Thursday.

And at least 22 states have passed laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.

Research has shown that gender-affirming surgery for minors is rare. According to a study published in August, fewer than 3,700 surgeries were performed in the United States on patients ages 12 to 18 from 2016 through 2019.

Experts have also said that receiving gender-affirming care — the social, psychological and medical support that people receive when their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth — is crucial in supporting mental health for transgender people.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Molly Beck and Tyler Katzenberger can be reached at molly.beck@jrn.com and tkatzenberger@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Assembly passes transgender healthcare and sports bans

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