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U.S. states move to ban transgender women from sports. Here’s what’s happening

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Dozens of U.S. states are proposing to ban transgender women and girls from competing in women’s sports, in a move at odds with President Joe Biden’s push for greater LGBTQ2+ inclusion.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Idaho was the first U.S. state to ban trans women and girls from women’s sports leagues in schools and colleges in March 2020. The law is currently suspended, after being challenged in court as discriminatory.

This year, about 42 similar bills have been introduced in 25 states, according to a legislative tracker run by Freedom For All Americans, an LGBTQ2+ advocacy group.

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The Mississippi Fairness Act was passed last week and South Dakota’s law to promote “fairness in women’s sports” on Monday.

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The Republican governor of Mississippi on Thursday signed off on the law, and South Dakota’s Republican governor has vowed to sign off on a similar measure.

“I will sign our bill to protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said on Twitter.

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WHY NOW?

On Biden’s first day in office on Jan. 20, he signed an executive order that banned discrimination based on gender identity in bathrooms, changing rooms and school sports — a move opposed by many Republicans such as Reeves.

“The President believes that trans rights are human rights, and that no one should be discriminated on the basis of sex,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a media briefing last week.

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Senior Republicans have spoken out against trans girls competing in girls’ sport on the grounds that they have an unfair physical advantage over other competitors.

“I’ve got eight granddaughters,” Senator Mitt Romney said in a confirmation hearing for education secretary Miguel Cardona.

“They shouldn’t be competing with people who are physiologically in an entirely different category.”

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WHAT ARE THE CURRENT RULES?

School policies for trans athletes vary, but are usually set at the state level by high school athletics governing bodies, rather than state laws. Several states have no policies at all.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which governs inter-college sport, says trans women have to suppress their testosterone for at least one year before competing on women’s teams.

Trans men cannot compete with women once they start taking testosterone, NCAA rules state.

On the global stage, International Olympic Committee guidelines advise sporting bodies to allow trans women athletes to compete if their testosterone levels remain below a certain level for at least a year. Trans men face no restrictions.

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WHAT DO TRANS ACTIVISTS SAY?

LGBTQ2+ activists say the sports bills are discriminatory, and they dispute trans athletes’ physical advantages.

Gillian Branstetter, a trans advocate and a spokeswoman for the National Women’s Law Center, said that trans athletes have not consistently outperformed other female athletes in the 16 U.S. states that have trans-inclusive high school policies.

“There’s not been the abolition of women’s sport. The nightmarish rhetoric (of) the people proposing these bills simply hasn’t come to fruition,” she said.

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Chris Mosier, a triathlete and the first trans man to represent the United States internationally, said the current debate was damaging for all trans people.

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“Telling transgender and non-binary youth that they are not valid and not worthy of having the same experiences as their peers not only negatively impacts them — it also impacts the way the rest of the country treats transgender people,” he said.

“These are very dangerous bills that are attempting to serve as an entry point to larger scale discrimination,” he added in emailed comments.

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WHAT DO SCIENTISTS SAY?

The muscular advantage enjoyed by trans women only falls by about 5 per cent after a year of testosterone suppressing treatment, found a review of existing studies by the University of Manchester and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

Another literature review led by Britain’s Loughborough University found that hormone therapy reduced trans women’s haemoglobin levels — which affects endurance — to equal that of non-trans women within four months.

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But strength, lean body mass and muscle area remained higher after three years of medication to block testosterone, it said.

Tommy Lundberg, who co-authored the first study, said male athletes gain their 30 per cent muscular advantages during puberty, but there are no studies of trans adolescents who may take puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones before puberty finishes.

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