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Evers vetoes transgender student-athlete sports ban bill

Source: Wisconsin Department of Administration

Evers vetoes transgender student-athlete sports ban bill

The Republican-authored bill passed along party lines in the legislature.

April 2, 2024 11:53 AM CDT

By: Jimmie Kaska

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

MADISON, Wis. (Civic Media) – Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill Monday that would have banned transgender and gender nonconforming student-athletes from participating on school athletic teams that align with their gender identity.

The Republican-authored legislation, which is consistent with efforts in other states, drew national attention and hours of public hearings.

“This type of legislation, and the harmful rhetoric beget by pursuing it, harms LGBTQ Wisconsinites’ and kids’ mental health, emboldens anti-LGBTQ harassment, bullying, and violence, and threatens the safety and dignity of LGBTQ Wisconsinites, especially our LGBTQ kids,” Gov. Evers said.

Assembly Bill 377 would require athletic participation by student-athletes at public and voucher-receiving private schools to be on teams that are the sex of the person assigned at birth.

The bill also would create three team options in sports: male, female, and co-ed. Currently, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is comprised of the state’s member public and private schools, only sponsors male and female sports.

“I will veto any bill that makes Wisconsin a less safe, less inclusive, and less welcoming place for LGBTQ people and kids, and I will continue to keep my promise of using every power available to me to defend them, protect their rights, and keep them safe,” Evers said.

Republicans, who titled the bill the “Protecting Women in Sports Act,” also included language that would allow for legal action if girls or women were not allowed to participate on a female-designated team.

“There is a whole army of women in Wisconsin sports that are fed up with giving their titles and awards to those who were born biological males,” Rep. Barbara Dittrich, one of the bill’s authors, said during the bill’s hearings. “The good news is that many are coming to their senses, seeing that something needs to be done to protect and revere females.”

Dittrich said after the veto that Evers “once again stands against women… with his misogynist veto.”

“Allowing biological males into female sports largely defeats the purpose of Title IX, and changing this arrangement becomes a serious matter when it limits opportunities for female athletes to succeed and advance in their chosen sports,” Sen. Dan Knodl said during testimony.

Knodl said after the veto that he was disappointed by the governor’s decision, callin gthe bill a “pro-girls’ sports bill, period.”

The bill was passed along party lines in both the Assembly and Senate. Over 300 pages of written testimony, as well as several hours of legislative hearings, took place both in support and opposition to the bill.

Religious and conservative groups supported the bill, but legal and education groups opposed it. Those groups include the WIAA, which governs school athletic competitions in the state, as well as the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the State Bar of Wisconsin, the ACLU, and Wisconsin Education Association Council.

“WIAA membership has an existing policy related to transgender athlete participation which has been professionally developed over time, has worked in practice, receives regular review, and has the support of the member schools,” the WIAA said in its lobbying statement against the bill.

In his veto message, Evers said that the bill ignored the WIAA’s policy, which was adopted by its membership in 2015, dealing with transgender student-athletes. That policy lets member schools determine which sports a student-athlete can take part in as long as the school considered written statements from the student, teachers, medical professionals, and peers. It also requires consideration of therapies that deal with gender confirmation.

The WIAA’s policy is largely similar to the NCAA’s.

Evers added that the bill might conflict with federal law, specifically Title IX.

“The WASB supports autonomy of the WIAA and has concerns about this bill putting school districts out of compliance with federal interpretation of Title IX,” the state’s school board association said in its statement.

A companion bill in the Senate was held, but had similar breakdowns of organizations supporting versus against. For both bills, the majority of organizations registered against the bill.

“We expect our kids to treat each other with kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion, and we should be able to expect adults to lead by example,” Evers said. “I urge the Republican majority to do so while fully considering the harmful consequences its efforts and actions have on our kids prior to introducing similar legislation in the future.”

Evers, who had signed an executive order shortly after taking office prohibiting discrimination or harassment in any state government-related matters because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, had shared multiple times in press releases and social media posts that he would veto any similar legislation.

“States across this country may give way to radical policies targeting LGBTQ individuals and families and threatening LGBTQ folks’ everyday lives and their ability to be safe, valued, supported, and welcome being who they are,” Evers said. “As long as I am the governor of this great state, Wisconsin will not be among them.”

The veto is the 188th by Evers, a record for Wisconsin governors. John Blaine, who was governor in the 1920’s, previously held the record.

You can read the full veto message here.

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