Equality For All: On and Off the Field

William Schechter, Scarlet Staff

House Resolution Five, also known as the Equality Act, is a necessary and groundbreaking bill that moves to protect the rights of millions of Americans. The bill was introduced on Feb.18, 2021 by David Cicilline of Rhode Island. The act aims to overhaul our law’s current interpretation of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. 

The Equality Act moves to keep laws up to date with our current society, preventing discrimination in all parts of life, including but not limited to public accommodations, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. The act also officially defines sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, while additionally ensuring that these groups are fully protected from segregation. The Equality Act has been sent to the Senate, after passing the House of Representatives on Feb. 25 by a vote of 224 to 206. Although very important, like most political actions today, the bill has fallen victim to extreme partisanship. Only three House Republicans voted in favor of the bill: John Katko of New York, Tom Reed of New York, and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. 

Although Republicans and other conservatives have rejected the bill as a whole, one part of the bill has gotten the most attention from the media and conservative activists. Under the new protections provided by the Equality Act, transgender athletes would be allowed to play sports with the gender identity of their choice. Those against the bill have marked this as one of the most outrageous parts of the bill, especially in terms of women’s sports. Critics often use this stance as a justification for delegitimizing the bill as a whole. One of the main counterpoint critics bring up is “basic biology,” pushing the narrative that sex is dimorphic and immutable. This idea is flawed in nature and does not address true biology, but we will return to this topic later. 

Another main point critics bring up is that the Equality Act will ruin competition in women’s sports. This argument basically hinges on testosterone, the hormone responsible for puberty in adolescent boys and increases muscle mass and bone density. For the most part, higher levels of testosterone lead to higher strength, speed, and other physical characteristics important in athletics. Those against implementing the Equality Act say that transgender athletes in women’s sports will be unfair as they will most likely have testosterone levels two or three magnitudes higher than the rest of the athletes. 

A third argument against the act is that it infringes first amendment rights, specifically that of speech and religion. This argument is really only pushed by Christian conservatives, saying that the act goes against their religious beliefs and thus breaks the First Amendment. There may be some other minor arguments against the Equality Act, but these three are the main ones used to try and prevent the passing of the act. 

Moving forward, those in favor of passing House Resolution five have many arguments in favor of the act, including ones that counter arguments critical of the act. For starters, as said above, the “basic biology” argument is simply not factual. Biology is much more complex than the night and day concept of male and female being the only two possible sexes, with man and woman the only two possible genders. Basic biology says that people can be born intersex, or be born with a reproductive system that doesn’t fit into either “male” or “female”. Detailed by Planned Parenthood, Intersex individuals can have physical and unseen differences, like being born with ovaries and testicular systems. They can also be born with different sets of chromosomes, instead of XX or XY, they may have XXY, XO, or XYY combinations. These physical and genetic differences do not fit into the societal norms of male and female. Yet with this being said, Intersex individuals are not any less human than anyone else and would not be banned from playing in the sports league of their choice simply because of these differences. 

Transgender athletes have been made visible in a discriminatory way, when the reality of gender expression, as well as genital presentation, has always been more varied than “men’s” and “women’s” divisions would have us think. Intersex people provide one example. Moving on from biology, we come to the other biggest argument critics have employed to denounce the Equality Act, competition. As previously stated, many have pushed the narrative that allowing transgender athletes to play with whom they identify will ruin competition, especially in women’s sports. It probably does not come as a surprise that this argument is one-sided, flawed, hypocritical, and purely political. As reported by the ACLU, even though thousands of trans athletes have competed in sporting events around the world, they do not disrupt the ecosystem of competition. Not only do transgender athletes not ruin competition, they improve the overall experience. 

When cisgender athletes tried to sue to not allow transgender athletes to compete, it was usually beause they lost to the trans athlete. Gender does not necessitate sports interest or skill. Another reason why the competition argument is flawed is simply because of the number of trans athletes competing in sporting events in the United States. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that there are very few out transgender athletes and an overwhelming majority of athletes are cisgender. The sad part is that while we know the number is very low, we do not know the exact figures because research on trans athletes and trans people in general is severely lacking. Hopefully in the years to come, well-intentioned research on the transgender community will improve and we can learn more than we already know. This may even help enlighten more people on the topic at hand. 

Adding more to the competition argument, some claim that allowing the Equality Act to pass will cause there to be more gatekeepers in athletics. Some worry that trans athletes in women’s sports will prevent cis athletes from reaching a higher level of athleticism, and is inherently misguided at its core. Moving on to the next level of athletic competition is not mutually exclusive. Two athletes can both move on to play Division I sports in college, it’s not typically a one in one out type of situation. Adding to this, the main gatekeeper of moving to a higher level of sports is simply personal skill. According to NCAA.org, Only 7% of high school athletes play college sports at any level and less than two percent of high school participants play division one sports. Allowing trans athletes to play simply will not add any substantial barrier for athletes seeking to play at a higher level. 

Finally, to say that the Equality Act violates First Amendment rights is preposterous. It does not restrict speech or freedom of religion in any way, people can still think and say as what they want, it just levels the playing field (pun intended) in all walks of life. 

So why should the Equality Act be signed into law? Why is this bill so important to so many people? Looking at it from an athletic perspective, it’s really a purely positive bill. Put yourself in the shoes of a trans athlete and think about how demoralizing it would be to be told you can’t play the sport you enjoy, the way you deserve to play it, because of who you are. Allowing trans athletes to play will give a community to people that can often be alienated by many in our society. It also helps give more young people the positive physical and mental benefits that come with playing a sport. It really is a no brainer, House Resolution five must be passed as soon as possible so we as a society can move forward and continue to support those in marginalized groups.