- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Watching the uproar over Lia Thomas play out in his backyard didn’t change Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf‘s mind about transgender athletes in women’s sports.

In a widely expected move, the Democratic governor vetoed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which would have barred male-born athletes who identify as female from joining girls’ and women’s scholastic teams.

In a statement, Mr. Wolf said the bill’s supporters “should be ashamed of themselves.”

“I have been crystal clear during my time in office that hate has no place in Pennsylvania, especially discrimination against already marginalized youth representing less than half of 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s population,” Mr. Wolf said. “The fact that this bill passed through Pennsylvania’s Republican-led General Assembly solely to bully and oppress vulnerable children is atrocious.”

Pennsylvania became the focus of the transgender-athlete debate during the 2021-22 collegiate season as Thomas won races and smashed records on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming team after competing for three years on the men’s side.

Thomas, who graduated in May, complied with NCAA rules requiring at least a year of testosterone suppression, but critics argued that the swimmer maintained an unfair physical advantage over the female competition.

Five of the Pennsylvania bill’s Republican supporters, all women, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Mr. Wolf‘s veto.

“The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act passed by majorities in both the House and Senate with members casting votes representing their districts,” they said. “Unfortunately, and predictably, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill, making it clear what we knew all along – he does not support women and their opportunity to compete on a level playing field.”

The bill was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Barb Gleim with the support of Reps. Martina White, Valerie Gaydos, Stephanie Borowicz and Dawn Keefer.

“We won’t give up on the female athletes we represent who have called for fairness and safety in sport,” Ms. Gleim said on Facebook.

The bill would have banned “students of the male sex” from participating in K-12 and collegiate scholastic sports designated for women or girls and created a civil cause of action for students “deprived of an athletic opportunity” from a violation of the law.

The veto promptly became an issue in the governor’s race. Republican candidate Doug Mastriano issued a statement accusing Wolf and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro of “essentially attempting to erase women.”

In April 2021, Mr. Shapiro tweeted that a similar bill introduced last year was “nothing more than cruel, designed to discriminate against transgender youth who just want to play sports like their peers.”

Wolf cited a 2022 survey by the LGBTQ group the Trevor Project, which found that nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth who experienced discrimination had attempted suicide in the last year.

“Even if enacted, this bill would face legal challenges for violating federal law and constitutional guarantees of equal protection,” he said in his veto message.

A poll released in May by the conservative American Principles Project found that Pennsylvania voters supported banning biological males from female sports by a 53-32% margin.

Group president Terry Schilling said that “while opposing this bill may have helped Wolf and Josh Shapiro curry favor with radical leftist activists, it will not help them with Pennsylvania voters, a strong majority of whom support protecting women’s sports.”

“This will be a serious liability for Democrats in November, and Republicans like Doug Mastriano are smart to be drawing this contrast,” he said.

Eighteen states have passed measures blocking biological males from competing in female scholastic sports: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law in April giving the state high school athletic association the authority to take action on the issue. The association followed up by requiring students to participate based on the sex on their birth certificate.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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