As expected, the Pennsylvania legislature approved legislation in late June that prevents "students of the male sex" from playing on athletic teams designated for girls or women.
Gov. Tom Wolf, expecting the bill to pass, vowed weeks ago he would veto “any legislation that discriminates against LGBTQIA-plus Pennsylvanians.”
In reality, in that long alphabet of protected identities, the only letter currently causing an uproar in Pennsylvania is “T” for transgender and, in particular, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Will Thomas (pictured at top). The college senior, a 6-foot-plus male, swam for the UPenn boys’ team until the 2021 school year when he joined the female team as a girl named “Lia.” His move to the girls team caused an uproar on the team, and at competing schools, when female swimmers watched long-held records get crushed by a male athlete.
After a season of setting records, Thomas unsurprisingly stole a women’s title at the NCAA championship after winning gold in the 500-yard freestyle.
According to Democrats in the state, however, it is Thomas who is in danger of discrimination and it is Republicans who are causing “her” harm, a story by The Associated Press suggests.
“This bill demonstrates a lack of empathy and, sadly, outright hate to win imaginary political points,” Rep. Austin Davis complained during debate. “And to those that formulated this game plan, I pray your eyes will open to the harm you are doing.”
According to a second Democrat, identified as Rep. Dan Frankel, legislators were voting on a bill “that solves a hypothetical crisis that just hasn’t come to pass.”
It’s unclear from that comment if Rep. Frankel did not consider Thomas’ record-breaking senior year a “crisis” despite the uproar or if the Democrat lawmaker was suggesting the issue of transgender sports was a non-issue dreamed up by Republican legislators.
During floor debate over the bill, according to the AP story, bill sponsor Rep. Barb Gleim mentioned Thomas by name and said his winning record “shows us how only one biological male competing in women’s sports can decimate an entire league.”
A second GOP lawmaker, Rep. Valerie Gaydos, used her own history as a collegiate athlete to defend Gleim’s legislation. As a former lacrosse player, she said, “I can’t imagine playing against biological males who are bigger, faster, stronger.”
Reacting to Gov. Wolf’s promised veto, Alexis Sneller of Pennsylvania Family Institute says female athletes deserve to know their rights are being defended even if the legislation dies from a veto.
“And we're hoping that regardless of what the governor does,” she says, “it gives others at different levels, who do have authority over different spots leagues, it gives them confidence to see that it's the right thing to do to stand up and protect fairness in women's sports."
Sneller points out that Pennsylvania voters will have a say on the issue in November, since Gov. Wolf is term-limited and is not on the ballot. Among the gubernatorial candidates, GOP nominee Doug Mastriano supports female athletes and Democrat nominee Josh Shapiro supports Thomas, she says.