Rebekah Bruesehoff, a transgender student athlete, speaks at a press conference on LGBTQI+ rights at the U.S. Capitol on March 8, 2023 in Washington, D.C. ​

Rebekah Bruesehoff, a transgender student athlete, speaks at a press conference on LGBTQI+ rights at the U.S. Capitol on March 8, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

'Vile and Cowardly': House GOP Votes to Ban Trans, Intersex Girls From School Sports

"I guess whether in the school cafeteria or on the House floor, bullies will always be bullies," said Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan.

LGBTQI+ rights advocates and congressional Democrats sharply condemned U.S. House Republicans on Thursday for approving a "cruel" and "heartbreaking" ban on trans and intersex women and girls playing school sports that align with their gender identity.

The so-called Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act (H.R. 734), sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), passed in a 219-203 vote along party lines and would apply to any educational institution, preschool and beyond, that receives federal funding.

Dubbed the "Politics Over Participation Act" by critics, the bill isn't going anywhere with a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, but its passage—on the 24th anniversary of the Columbine massacre—sends a clear signal to the nation about priorities amid calls for stricter gun laws in response to school shootings.

"Trans kids on our soccer teams are not a threat. But assault weapons in our community certainly are. The Republican Party needs to get their priorities in check," declared Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose daughter is trans, ahead of the vote.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) similarly said that "as gun violence plagues our schools, anti-equality politicians decided the most pressing priority for the House was to ban trans girls of all ages from playing on school sports teams with their friends. These extreme politicians are trying to distract from the fact that they have no solutions for the problems facing everyday Americans, and trans kids are paying the price."

"Trans girls deserve the same opportunity as all other girls—to be part of a team, learn sportsmanship, and challenge themselves," he continued. "I condemn today's vote to rob trans girls of these opportunities. Anti-equality politicians need to stop punching down and bullying trans kids. My colleagues who voted for this bill should be ashamed."

Pocan chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus, which is led by the 10 openly LGBTQI+ members of the House. Caucus co-chairs also spoke out against the chamber's Republicans, with Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) denouncing the bill as "vile and cowardly."

Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-Minn.) said it was "heartbreaking" to watch Republicans pass "cruel" legislation that would harm and endanger children while a fellow co-chair, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), tied the effort to bills from GOP state legislators.

"It's become painfully obvious that extreme MAGA Republicans have absolutely no interest in addressing the very real problems facing everyday Americans, like fighting inflation, protecting communities from gun violence, and making healthcare more affordable and accessible," Torres said. "'Instead, they're singularly obsessed with continuing this hateful and coordinated assault on LGBTQI+ kids that we've seen playing out across the country through countless pieces of anti-trans legislation."

Other members of Congress also blasted the bill. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) noted that "the MAGA Republicans banning trans kids from playing sports are the same ones who want to erase the existence of trans students in the classroom, and ban trans people from receiving healthcare. This is part of a coordinated effort across the country to systematically eradicate trans people."

"The relentless fearmongering, bullying, rejection, and hateful policies being pushed by far-right Republicans across the country have dangerous and very real consequences," the congresswoman added. "In the past year, more than half of trans and nonbinary young people seriously considered suicide, and one LGBTQ+ young person attempts suicide every 45 seconds."

Advocacy groups also took aim at House Republicans for the vote—the first time ever that a chamber of Congress has approved legislation that expressly discriminates against intersex people, according to interACT, which advocates for the human rights of children born with intersex traits.

"H.R. 734 nefariously twists the protective civil rights purpose of Title IX to punish inclusive educational athletics programs that choose not to discriminate," said interACT executive director Erika Lorshbough, referencing a federal anti-discrimination law. "The choice to push intersex and transgender girls out of school athletics protects no one, and harms many."

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said that "discrimination based on gender is damaging to the developmental well-being of children. No one should fear ostracization, shame, punishment, or isolation for being who they are."

"As a physician who regularly provides affirming healthcare for trans and nonbinary communities," Kumar added, "it is highly concerning that our politicians are hellbent on making the lives of trans youth so controlled by the gender binaries so deeply rooted in white supremacist control."

Jennifer Levi, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) senior director of transgender and queer rights, said the vote "is a malicious attack on transgender student athletes and sends a harmful message of exclusion and intolerance to all students."

"Transgender students want to play sports for the same reasons all kids do—to compete, have fun, be part of a team and build confidence, leadership, and healthy self-esteem," Levi stressed. "We urge the Senate to stop this unnecessary and unprincipled measure in its tracks."

ACLU national policy director Deirdre Schifeling accused the House GOP of failing the American people, saying: "Why are Republicans in Congress spending their time bullying children? This is not what voters elected them to do."

"Instead of governing responsibly, solving the debt limit, and passing legislation that the American people actually want and need, this House majority is legislating discrimination and hate towards school children," she added. "We expect and deserve better from our elected leadership. The ACLU will fight for the rights of all people to be included in our society."

While many Democratic lawmakers, rights advocates, and atheletes have denounced H.R. 734—alongside state-level bills about school sports and lifesaving healthcare—some trans and nonbinary state legislators have also sounded the alarm about the Biden administration's pending Title IX update, warning that though well-intended, it could effectively "provide those who seek to deny us our rights a roadmap for how to do so."

This post has been updated with comment from Physicians for Reproductive Health.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached by calling or texting 988, or through chat at Trevor Project, which serves LGBTQ+ youth, can be reached at 1-866-488-7386, by texting "START" to 678-678, or through chat at Both offer 24/7, free, and confidential support.

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