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“We are all God’s children:” Despite outcry, transgender youth athlete bill heads to governor

With Democrats offering passionate objections, the Indiana Senate Tuesday passed a much-debated bill that would prohibit transgender girls from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity, sending it to Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto or sign into law.

Upon its third and final reading in the Senate, the discussion of House Bill 1041 became fiery, with sponsor Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, speaking on the bill and its objectives: to protect fair competition in girls’ sports and the “integrity of a biological female,” a refrain she repeated throughout discussion.

While the bill mentions transgender youth athletes in schools K-12, there was an emphasis on transgender girls, not boys. Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, addressed this omission and expressed concern about various ways of perceiving biological differences in sport. He cited a time when Black athletes were barred from playing sports alongside their white teammates.

“We would do ourselves good to learn a lesson from that experience,” Taylor said. “What you’re saying to young women is that there is no physical way that you can compete with a trans woman. I want you to think about that.”

Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, provided information about the effect of the bill’s provisions  on anti-discrimination rules already in effect in Indiana’s K-12 schools, asking, “How much would a lawsuit potentially cost our state?”

Sen. J.D. Ford (above), D-Indianapolis, had the most emotional speech on the bill. He drew parallels with his own experiences as a gay man, reading letters and expressing the personal struggles and concerns of trans youth and their families.

On a more practical note, Ford also listed the large companies that are taking stands against similar legislation in the United States. “Big businesses are paying attention,” Ford said. “We are all God’s children, and I will not let you push away these kids.”

During the bill’s second hearing on Feb. 22, Ford unsuccessfully proposed three amendments: that the IHSAA create its own policies, that the government create a college fund for transgender student athletes, or his “last-ditch Hail Mary” suggestion to send the bill to a summer study committee, where it would either be reassessed or disposed of.

“Senators, these are kids that we’re actively attacking,” Ford said. “To me, we can have debate on the LGBTQ+ community. But we do not and should not have a debate on human existence for these kids.”

A supporter of Ford’s amendments was Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, who spoke in support of re-evaluating the bill to gain a better understanding of what it means to be transgender.

“We have study committees for a reason, and the basic reason is we study things we don’t understand,” Lanane said. “You think back in history, 40 years ago, people couldn’t understand why we would have marriages of a mixed race, and maybe 10 years ago people couldn’t understand why we would have same-sex marriages. But things change. Societal ideas change. So if we don’t understand something, let’s study it.”

On Tuesday, Lanane asked why Indiana isn’t using IHSAA’s already established rule about trans athletes. “If they have a policy, isn’t the issue whether we should change or abrogate for policies relevant to what we do in this chamber?”

The bill passed in its unamended form Tuesday 32-18, and while opposition on the floor came from Democrats, seven Republicans voted nay on the bill.

After Tuesday’s passage, the Trevor Project and the ACLU of Indiana both released statements.

The Trevor Project condemned the Senate for its decision. Sam Ames, the group’s director of advocacy and government affairs, said that the bill “is not solving any actual problem in Indiana, but it is causing harm to actual trans youth in Indiana.” The group also urged Holcomb to reject the bill and focus on “real issues” within the state.

Katie Blair, the ACLU of Indiana public policy director, said the bill’s passing will further ostracize trans youth, especially girls. “Trans kids have a right to live full lives, just like everyone else. This legislation is hateful, harmful, and appears to violate federal law and the Constitution.”

Ariana Lovitt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.