The Republican Party’s anti-trans agenda goes national

Republicans have embraced anti-trans policies across the board. It’s unclear whether it will benefit them politically

Eric Garcia
Friday 21 April 2023 19:34 BST
Rep Greg Steube.
Rep Greg Steube. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In recent years, Republicans have focused heavily on restricting the participation of transgender girls in women’s sports, with legislation proliferating at the state level. During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court last year, Senator Marsha Blackburn tried to stump Ms Jackson by asking her “what is a woman.”

But so far, Republicans haven’t been able to train their focus on the federal level on transgender people, largely because President Joe Biden occupies the White House and Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. But now that Republicans have control of the House of Representatives, they have set aside time from their impending battle on the debt limit, to focus on restricting transgender girls from participating in sports.

On Thursday, the House passed legislation that would prohibit any organisation that receives federal dollars and “operates, sponsors, or facilitates athletic programs or activities” to allow a person assigned male at birth to participate in women’s sports. Similarly, it would recognise eligbility “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” Incidentally, despite the fact that Republicans billed the legislation as protecting women’s sports, Representative Greg Steube of Florida served as the main sponsor of the legislation.

The legislation will certainly not pass the Senate given that Democrats control the upper chamber. President Joe Biden has said he would veto the bill.

The president’s record on transgender issues is, like many things, uneven. Back in 2012, when he was running for re-election as vice president, he called discrimination against transgender people “the civil rights issue of our time.” He also openly supported Sarah McBride, the first openly transgender state senator in Delaware, who worked for his late son Beau Biden and called to congratulate Danica Roem when she became the first openly transgender state legislator in the country. He also nominated Rachel Levine to be assistant secretary of health, making her the first openly transgender official confirmed by the US Senate, though she faced harsh questioning from Republican senators.

At the same time, earlier this month, Mr Biden tried to split the difference when the Department of Education proposed a rule that would prohibit outright banning transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports but would allow for schools to implement rules to determine eligibility criteria that could allow for some restrictions on transgender athletes, taking into consideration “fairness in competition” and “competitive high school and college athletic environments.”

But Republicans are not just focusing on athletics. Republican state legislatures and governors, including in swing states like Georgia, have passed and signed legislation prohibiting minors from receiving gender-affirming care.

Similarly, last month, the House passed its Parents’ Bill of Rights legislation that would require schools to inform parents when they let transgender girls join women’s teams and the legislation would require elementary and middle schools to receive parents’ permission to change a child’s gender, pronouns or name.

In addition, former president Donald Trump has zeroed in on prohibiting transgender women from participating in women’s sports and he has also said he would “revoke every Biden policy promoting the chemical castration and sexual mutilation of our youth and ask Congress to send me a bill prohibiting child sexual mutilation in all 50 states.”

As of right now, it’s unclear whether the Republican’s zeroing in on restrictions on gender-affirming care and athletics will reap political benefits. But it is clearly something they see as mobilising their political base. And it will incalcuably make it more difficult for students questioning their gender to find avenues to find fulfillment. Culture war battles have not served the GOP well, as the fight over abortion demonstrated. After the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to an abortion, Republicans suffered at the ballot box in the 2022 midterm elections. That is unlikely to change in the upcoming election.

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