DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Thursday that will immediately prohibit transgender women and girls from competing on school, college and university sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.
The passage of House File 2416 has drawn a firestorm of criticism from transgender Iowans, LGBTQ advocacy groups, businesses and Democrats who say it discriminates against transgender girls and violates civil rights laws. Legal experts expect the law to end up in court.
Reynolds, a Republican, said the law is “a fairness issue” because of what she said are athletic advantages for transgender girls. Her signature puts Iowa among 10 other Republican-led states that have passed laws restricting transgender athletes in recent years.
The law takes effect immediately.
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Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, a Democrat, called Reynolds’ decision to sign the law “appalling.”
“She is showing once again that she’s more interested in scoring political points than caring about the impact of legislation on some of the most marginalized kids in our society,” he said in a statement.
The law requires school-sponsored athletic events to be designated as a men’s, women’s or coeducational sports. Athletes competing in women’s sports need to have female listed as the sex on their birth certificate. There is not a similar prohibition for men’s sports in the bill.
The law allows students to sue if they believe they have suffered “direct or indirect harm” based on a school violating the law. The Iowa attorney general’s office will represent schools and school employees in lawsuits, and the state will pay any legal costs.
Legal experts believe Iowa’s law is likely headed for a legal challenge. Over the past two years, such laws in Idaho, West Virginia, Tennessee and Florida have been embroiled in court battles.
A report from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency said the bill could also jeopardize federal funding due to violation of Title IX, the 1972 law that bans discrimination in schools based on sex. The U.S. Department of Education released guidance last year saying transgender students’ rights are protected under Title IX.
The report said it’s unlikely schools would lose federal funds due to precedent, although it can’t predict how the department’s Office of Civil Rights would enforce the law.
Republicans have argued that rather than violate Title IX, the bill would uphold its intent, protecting the competitiveness of women’s sports.
A group of more than 150 companies, including Amazon, General Mills, IBM, Microsoft and Nestle have also signed a statement opposing the pending legislation in Iowa and other states, according to a news release from the Human Rights Campaign.
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