MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly signed off Thursday on contentious legislation limiting transgender youth participation in sports teams and was poised to approve another bill that would outlaw gender-affirming surgery for minors despite Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' vow to veto the proposals.
GOP legislators across the United States want to limit the rights of transgender youths, sparking fierce pushback from the transgender community and triggering discrimination lawsuits along the way. Now the battle has come to Wisconsin.
Assembly passage sends the legislation to the Republican-controlled state Senate. If that chamber passes the package it would go next to Evers, who has already promised the bills will never become law.
“We're going to veto every single one of them (the bills),” Evers told transgender youth and their supporters who gathered at the state Capitol last week for packed hearings on the proposals. “I know you're here because you're pissed off and you want to stop it, and you will stop it, and I'll help you stop it."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at a news conference early Thursday that advancing the bills in the face of an inevitable veto is “the right thing to do for Wisconsin families" and he hopes Evers will listen to the people and sign the bills into law.
Multiple groups have registered in opposition to the Wisconsin 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 Catholic Conference and Wisconsin Family Action, a conservative group that advocates for marriage and traditional family structure, are the only organizations registered in support.
At least 22 states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states face lawsuits. Gender-affirming surgery for minors is rare, with fewer than 3,700 performed in the U.S. on patients ages 12 to 18 from 2016 through 2019, according to a study published in August.
Vos defended banning gender-affirming surgery for minors during his news conference, drawing parallels between gender-affirming surgery and lobotomies.
“It’s interesting if you go back in history, the way to treat mental illness 50 to 100 years ago was a lobotomy,” he said. “And at the time that was settled science. That was just the way it was supposed to be. 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.”
Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, who is queer, called Vos’ remarks “disgusting and completely misguided.”
“Transgender individuals deserve to be treated with respect and must be able to access the medical care that they and their care teams deem necessary,” she said in an email to The Associated Press.
Nearly two dozen states have passed legislation limiting transgender athletes to playing on teams with players who identity as the same gender the transgender athletes were assigned at birth. In other words, the bans prohibit transgender females from participating on all-female teams and transgender males from participating on all-male teams.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association currently requires transgender female athletes to have undergone testosterone suppression therapy for a year before participating on a female team in a WIAA-sanctioned sport. Transgender males athletes who have started hormone therapy, such as taking testosterone, are eligible only for male teams. Transgender males who have not started hormone therapy can still play on female teams. The WIAA policy is modeled after NCAA requirements for transgender athletes.
State Rep. Barbara Dittrich, the chief Assembly sponsor of the sports bills, told the Assembly’s education committee during hearings last week that she's aware of six transgender high school athletes in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin legislation includes three bills. One would limit high school athletes to playing on teams that match the gender they were assigned at birth. The second would apply the same restriction to college athletes. The third would bar doctors from performing gender-affirming surgery on minors.
The Assembly passed the high school and college sports bills on identical 63-35 votes. No Democrats voted for the bills.
During the debate leading up to the votes, Democrats accused Republicans of disrespecting transgender youth and using them as political pawns in a manufactured crisis designed to further divide conservatives and liberals nationwide.
“Their lives are not up for debate,” Rep. Kristina Shelton of Green Bay said. “Today is not about supporting athletics in a meaningful way.”
Republicans countered that allowing transgender girls to compete against female players is unfair because transgender girls are naturally stronger and faster. They framed the issue as a fight for women's equality.
“We want to make sure women’s sports have a chance in hell to be able to compete after all the training, all the workouts, all the sacrifice," Rep. Janel Brandtjen said.