Iowa’s Republican governor approved legislation Thursday banning transgender women and girls from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender at accredited schools and colleges.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision to sign House File 2416 means the state joins South Dakota in enacting such a ban this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Her signature comes as Republican-led states ramp up efforts to restrict the lives of transgender youth, including Texas, where state officials are attempting to declare some types of gender-affirming care for trans youth to be child abuse.
The Iowa law states: “Only female students, based on their sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls.” The measure defines “sex” as the sex listed on a student’s birth certificate or adoption certificate “issued at or near the time of the student’s birth.”
While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories. For this reason, critics have said the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, is overly simplistic and misleading.
Advocates of such measures have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports. But a 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say this legislation adds to the discrimination that trans people face, particularly trans youth.
At the bill signing on Thursday, Reynolds used transphobic language to justify the need for the ban, saying: “No amount of talent, training or effort can make up for the natural physical advantages males have over females. It’s simply a reality of human biology.”
“Forcing females to compete against males is the opposite of inclusivity and it’s absolutely unfair,” she said.
The law went into effect immediately after Reynolds signed it.
The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint in recent years, especially among conservatives.
Last year, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia enacted similar sports bans, infuriating LGBTQ advocates, who argue conservatives are creating an issue where there isn’t one.
Opponents have had some limited legal success in fighting the measures, including last year when a federal judge temporarily blocked West Virginia’s enforcement of its ban after advocates sued the state, with the judge saying he had “been provided with scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important problem.” And in 2020, a federal judge blocked Idaho’s enforcement of its sports ban.
Advocates sued Tennessee in November in an effort to overturn that state’s ban, though a decision in that case has not yet come.
All these challenges have been brought with the help of the ACLU. CNN has reached out to the organization for comment on Iowa’s law.
The NCAA has come out in opposition to such bans, saying last April that it’s closely monitoring them to make sure NCAA championships can be held “in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
Advocates tore into Reynolds on Thursday for her decision to sign the law, with the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that works on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, saying it “will have serious mental health impacts on” trans youth.
“Sidelining trans students will only contribute to social isolation and stigma that fuels bullying and mental health challenges for young trans people – issues they already face at alarmingly high rates,” Sam Ames, the group’s director for advocacy and government affairs, said in a statement.
The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights groups, said the bill’s approval marks “a shameful moment in Iowa’s history.”
“With the stroke of her pen, and without even bothering to meet with transgender kids or their parents, Governor Reynolds has reversed years of progress and moved our state backwards,” said JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, in a statement.
CNN’s Michelle Watson contributed to this report.