Indiana becomes 17th state to bar biological males from girls’ sports; ACLU sues

Unsplash/Austris Augusts
Unsplash/Austris Augusts

The Indiana legislature has overridden Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill banning biological males from participating in sports reserved for female student-athletes, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit seeking to block the legislation from taking effect. 

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Indiana legislature overrode Holcomb’s veto of House Enrolled Act 1041. The bill proclaims that biologically male students who identify as females “may not participate on an athletic team or sport designated under this section as being a female, women’s, or girls’ athletic team or sport.”

The Indiana House of Representatives overrode the veto in a 67-28 vote. The state Senate voted 32-15 to override Holcomb’s veto slightly more than an hour later. 

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The bill is scheduled to go into effect on July 1. 

Shortly after the override, the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit to block the law in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Filed on behalf of “A.M.,” a 10-year-old trans-identified male who plays on a girls’ softball team, the complaint alleges that House Enrolled Act 1041 violates federal anti-discrimination law and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said in a statement Tuesday that he believes the new law is based on “misinformation about biology and gender.”

“Girls like A.M. simply want to access the same opportunities as their peers and denying them that right jeopardizes their mental health and physical well-being,” Falk said.

Upon vetoing the bill in March, the Republican governor expressed concern over the “wide-open nature of the grievance provisions” contained in the measure. He characterized the legislation as “unclear about how consistency and fairness will be maintained for parents and students across different counties and school districts.”

Holcomb felt at the time that the Indiana High School Athletic Association was doing “an admirable job to help maintain fairness and consistency in all sports.” 

“Nowhere in the testimony on this legislation was a critique leveled against their model on how to govern this and other complex matters. Furthermore, not a single case of a male seeking to participate on a female team has completed the process established by IHSAA’s now decade-old policy,” he added.

The American Principles Project, which describes itself as “the premier national organization engaging directly in campaigns and advocacy on behalf of the family,” celebrated the veto override.

The organization has emerged as an outspoken supporter of House Enrolled Act 1041 and similar legislation in other states, which it sees as necessary to create a level playing field for biologically female student-athletes.

APP President Terry Schilling said in a statement Tuesday that while he is happy to see the veto overridden, it is “unfortunate this vote was even necessary.”

“Governor Holcomb had an easy opportunity earlier this year to join dozens of other state executives in defending girls’ sports, but instead, he surrendered to the pressure of woke ideologues trying to eliminate biological reality,” Schilling claimed. “We applaud Indiana legislators for overcoming Holcomb’s cowardice to protect their state’s girl athletes, and we urge the remaining states without such protections to act immediately to implement them.”

Supporters contend that measures like HEA 1041 are necessary because of the biological differences between males and females that, on average, give male athletes an unfair advantage over their biologically female counterparts due to higher bone density and more muscle mass. 

Political pressure to allow trans-identified males to compete in female sporting events has caused some sporting organizations to alter policies and others to defend their existing ones. 

“Through analysis the impact of maturation in the presence naturally occurring androgens as the level necessary for male development, significant advantages are had, including but not limited to increased body and muscle mass, bone density, bone structure, and connective tissue,” a 2019 statement from USA Powerlifting states. 

“These advantages are not eliminated by reduction of serum androgens such as testosterone yielding a potential advantage in strength sports such as powerlifting.”

A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that trans-identified males still possess advantages over biologically female athletes even after one year of taking feminizing hormones. 

The ACLU contends that trans-identified “athletes vary in athletic ability just like cisgender athletes” and success often depends on techniques and training. The organization denies that any “unfair” advantage exists for trans-identified biological males who compete against women or girls.

With the passage of HEA 1041, Indiana has become the 17th state to pass a measure preventing trans-identified males from competing in women’s sports.

According to the LGBT Movement Advancement Project, which opposes such legislation, the other states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. 

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