On the heels of a sweeping executive order requiring federally funded athletic programs to let athletes who were born male compete with and against women, Independent Women’s Forum hosted a call to discuss the rising threat to women’s sports. The call featured top competitive female athletes, including a 3x Olympian, and federal and state lawmakers who have sponsored legislation to protect female athletes.
On the call were: Selina Soule, decorated college track athlete; Linnea Saltz, decorated college track athlete; Inga Thompson, three-time Olympic cyclist; Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), sponsor of the federal “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”; Mississippi Senator Angela Hill, sponsor of the “Mississippi Fairness Act”; Jennifer C. Braceras, director of Independent Women’s Law Center; and Carrie Lukas, president of Independent Women’s Forum.
Operator: Good afternoon, and welcome to Independent Women’s Forum’s Save Women’s Sports National Press Call. Today’s speakers will take questions from the press at the end of today’s call. Please note that this call is being recorded. I would like to introduce Independent Women’s Forum President Carrie Lukas. Carrie, please go ahead.
Carrie Lukas: Thank you. And thanks to those of you on the line joining us to discuss the rising threat to women’s and girls’ sports. Surprising, there are very few women’s organizations speaking out against the recent executive order and talking about how it will impact female athletics. That’s where Independent Women’s Forum comes in. My name is Carrie Lukas and I’m president of Independent Women’s Forum. For those not familiar with our organization, which next year celebrates thirty years, you can read more about us at IWF.org. Independent Women’s Forum is the leading national women’s organization dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedoms, opportunity, and well-being. We care deeply about individual rights and fairness and about ensuring that women have the opportunity to compete and succeed in all aspects of life. We have become involved in the issue of women’s sports because of our concern that decades of women’s progress are in jeopardy. At the federal level, President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order that jeopardizes the future of women’s sports, and even places women and girls in physical danger. Women and girls are increasingly being required to compete against biological males in athletic competitions. This not only puts them at a disadvantage in their ability to succeed and win competitions, but it’s also a very real safety concern. In the realm of athletics, biological sex differences matter. Without separate teams for biological women and men, men will dominate women in competitive sports where strength, size, or speed are relevant factors. That’s because physiologically the average male is stronger, bigger, and faster than the average female. And as we have seen in contact sports like fighting and boxing where biological women are forced to compete against biological men, it can lead to serious injury. Independent Women’s Forum also chose to speak out about this issue because it’s one where speaking out requires a lot of bravery. Those who dare to acknowledge the absolute reality that biological women are on average physically weaker than biological men are often smeared as being transphobic or bigoted. This is not true. Some very brave people, some of whom join us today, have been speaking out, and we stand with them. First and foremost, we stand for their right to speak and make their views known without fear of censorship, de-platforming, or attack, but we also want to make sure that in the noble effort to make society more welcoming towards all people, including those who are transgender, that we don’t lose sight of the need for women to be recognized as a distinct group with distinct physical realities. Today it seems that many are willing to sacrifice women’s and girls’ interests on the altar of political correctness and identity politics. We have a great lineup today to cover this important topic. First, I’d like to welcome Jennifer Braceras, the director of Independent Women’s Law Center, who will describe the legal terrain of this issue and introduce our other speakers.
Jennifer C. Braceras: Thank you so much, Carrie. It’s great to be here with everyone today to discuss this important topic. Before we hear from the people who have been directly impacted by this issue, I want to provide a bit of background. When it comes to the issue of gender identity, context matters. Laws that prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals might make perfect sense, for example, when it comes to access to public education or financial credit. But requiring biological girls to compete with and against athletes who were born male undermines the very purpose of another anti-discrimination law, Title IX. Forty-nine years ago, Congress passed Title IX to expand opportunities for women and girls in education, including school athletics. Since then, there has been a 545% increase in the percentage of women playing college sports. And there has been a 990% increase in the percentage of young women playing high school sports. This explosion in female participation is due in large part to the creation of separate single-sex teams for female athletes. Unfortunately, that progress is now at risk. It is at risk from athletic associations, like Connecticut’s, that allow transgender athletes who were born male to participate in women’s sports without restriction – meaning without surgery and without hormones. Female athletic progress was placed in further jeopardy last year by the United States Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County, which addressed discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, the reasoning of Bostock is so broad that as Independent Women’s Forum predicted, it is now being applied to Title IX and used by lower courts to require women’s teams to include male-bodied athletes. But it goes far beyond that. Based on the Bostock court’s reasoning, it may not be long before we see non-transgender male athletes seeking spots on teams such as field hockey, and in some places volleyball where schools offer no male analogue. That is because traditionally courts interpreted federal sex discrimination laws as prohibiting policies that advantage one sex over the other, not as prohibiting all policies that separate or distinguish between males and females. So, for example, employers are allowed to offer separate male and female bathrooms. But according to Justice Gorsuch and the Supreme Court, any decision to take sex into consideration at all, now constitutes discrimination because of sex. Under this reasoning, schools can never separate the sexes for purposes of athletic competition. Bostock therefore calls into question not only individual decisions to keep transgender athletes, or male students, off of women’s teams, but the entirety of sex-segregated sport. Unfortunately, this reason has been adopted by the administration’s recent executive order, which requires the Department of Education to enforce Title IX according to the court’s opinion in Bostock, and it underlines H.R.5, the so-called Equality Act, and other laws, to define sex as synonymous with gender irrespective of context. While such laws purport to protect gay and transgender Americans from discrimination, they use a meat cleaver to accomplish work better left to a scalpel. It is for this reason that supporters of H.R.5, who understand the damage it will do to women’s sports, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova, have asked Congress for an explicit exemption for athletic competition. Without women’s teams, women and girls will not have equal opportunities to compete. As Carrie mentioned previously, science shows us that the average male is strong, bigger, and faster than the average female. If males are allowed to compete on women’s teams with limited roster spots, women will inevitably lose out, and in head-to-head competitions female athletes will lose to male-bodied athletes most of the time. As Martina Navratilova has explained, “sex segregation is the only way to achieve equality for women and girls” in competitive sport. And with that legal background, I’d like to now introduce Inga Thompson, our first speaker. Inga is a three-time Olympic cyclist who competed in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympics. She won silver medals at the world championships in 1987, 1990, and 1991, and placed third in the Tour de France in 1986 and 1989. She says she would never have had the chance to succeed in high school if she had been competing against biological males. Inga, welcome. You have the floor.
Inga Thompson: Oh, thank you for giving me a chance to speak on this issue. My name is Inga Thompson. I’m here speaking as a three-time Olympian cyclist. And I was able to attain this level of athletics only because of Title IX. I was that young, shy, vulnerable little skinny girl that Title IX sought to support – and it worked. When I was little, I wanted the opportunities that young boys were given in sports, only to be repeatedly told “no.” My brother got to compete in every sport available, but there was none available to me at this time in my life. In the mid-90s, when I reached junior high school, the effects of Title IX were starting to be felt. There were sports available to us. Many of us other shy, skinny little girls came forward and we had a girls’ running team. We were ecstatic. The boys still dominated us in training, but we didn’t care. We had our team. Our little group of girls went on to high school and our little team grew. And we went on to win every state title available to us, myself included. Our group of little girls still keep contact to this day, telling stories of how important this start in our lives in sport was to our growth and our development. We were the epitome of what the young girls that needed to be protected. Title IX was put into place to protect us – and it did. It gave us sporting opportunities that had been available only to men since the Olympic games in Greece started around the 8th century before Christ. Women’s cycling was not put into the Olympics until 1984. Young girls’ and women’s sports is for the development of females. Title IX was not started to help male-bodied people navigate their emotional struggles with gender dysphoria. While all people deeply feel for their struggles with gender dysphoria, taking away opportunities from vulnerable young girls and women is not the answer. No amount of testosterone suppression will make this fair for women. Sports has always been separated by sex, age, weight, and para, [inaudible]. Now one can feel like a woman and compete with women. If we allow this logic to follow, can those that identify as disabled compete in the para category? The answer is simple. Of course not. This wouldn’t be fair. We all know this. Yet, male-bodied athletes can compete against women when we now have clear scientific evidence that it is not fair. The world anti-doping agency rules are clear about any substance that gives one a slight advantage will be deemed illegal. Yet, transgender women, male-bodied athletes, even after the required testosterone suppression, will still be seeing a 10% advantage over the women. When I first started racing my bicycle, I was the only woman in my state competing. I raced with the men and I helped build our sport for women. Because of the grass-root efforts of Title IX, more women started racing, and our sport is flourishing now. I believe the time has come for us to help embrace a new protective category for transgender athletes. In cycling we have twenty categories for men. Surely, we can develop a protected category for transgender athletes since there are many variations of transition for them. The haphazard throwing of transgender athletes together with the women athletes is disrespectful to both categories. The International Olympic Committee with little or no notice changed the rules, saying that this was about inclusivity, without addressing fairness to women. Most importantly, quoted by the IOC, most transgender athletes would be at a relatively advanced age, so it didn’t really matter. Women are thrown under the bus again. The IOC and the governing bodies of sports obviously dropped the ball and didn’t put in the necessary effort and due diligence to figure out fairness for both. When I started racing there were few women, but through the efforts of many our sport developed. There are a few transgender athletes today, but with the efforts of many we can help develop their sport and give them the much-needed recognition and support they need. Men’s and women’s sports are separate, yet they are equal. Transgender athletes should be given the same respect of having their own sport, just like women were given our separate but equal status in sports. This would not only protect transgender athletes, but it would also protect women athletes. Sometimes it is necessary to exclude in sports in order to have fairness. I expect the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, and sports’ governing bodies, to put in their due diligence and effort to help develop categories for both transgender athletes and women so we can have fairness to both. While I deeply care for transgender people and their struggles, when it comes to women’s sports, inclusion shouldn’t mean the exclusion of women in women’s sports. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
Jennifer C. Braceras: Thank you so much, Inga, for sharing your story.
Inga Thompson: Thank you for having me.
Jennifer C. Braceras: It’s our pleasure. Next up we have Selina Soule. Selina is a Division I track athlete at the College of Charleston. At her Connecticut high school, Soule ran track where she made All-Conference ten times and was four-time All-National qualifier. In 2019, however, she missed qualifying for the New England Track and Field Regionals by two spots in her top event. Those two spots were taken by transgender runners who were born male. Soule is one of four female athletes suing the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference over its policy. That case is still pending. Selina, we look forward to hearing from you.
Selina Soule: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today. My name is Selina Soule. I am a former high school track and field athlete in Connecticut and currently a Division I track and field athlete. During all four years of high school, I was forced to compete against biological males and lost. I started track and field when I was eight years old after my mom introduced it to me. Track and field is an important part of my life. The track is my happy place. Working out and competing helps me handle stress, make new friends, and meet athletes from other schools and backgrounds. It helps me become a better version of myself. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic took a serious toll on my ability to compete just as it did for my teammates and the girls from other schools I lined up against. However, before that, there was another impossible hurdle that me and my fellow track athletes were up against. In 2017, in accordance to a policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, boys who identify as girls started to compete in girls’ sports. I was forced to compete against biological males, just like many girls in Connecticut and New England. We all knew the outcome long before the race started, and it was extremely demoralizing. We’ve missed out on medals and on opportunities to advance. But when we’ve asked questions, we’ve been told we are allowed to compete, but we don’t have the right to win. We work incredibly hard to shave fractions of a second off of our times to win, not to place third and beyond. I chose to speak out and to get involved publicly because I believe that girls and women deserve a fair opportunity to compete and succeed in athletic competitions. None of us elite athletes sacrifice everything just for participation trophies. That’s not why we run track. That’s not why we have women’s sports. The CAC, school administrators, legislators, and other adults refuse to find a solution that would protect women’s sports. We waited for over six months after asking the Department of Education to make sure we had fair competitions, but finally we had no choice but to file a lawsuit challenging this policy. I was fortunate enough to find a spot on a college track team, but I worry about how many girls had their dreams destroyed just because they had to run against a biological male and lost. I don’t want any other girl to experience the pain and heartbreak I had to go through during my four years of high school. I am fearful that I will have to experience this in collegiate track and field as well. We won’t be sidelined, and we won’t be silenced. We truly believe that there are better solutions, solutions that protect opportunities for all athletes and don’t infringe on women’s rights that we fought so hard for.
Jennifer C. Braceras: Thank you Selina. Next, I’d like to introduce Linnea Saltz, sorry about that, Linnea Saltz. Linnea is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. As an undergraduate at Southern Utah University, she was the 800-meter Big Sky Conference Champ in 2019 and 2020, and broke multiple school records. Earlier this month, Linnea stood up to urge Utah lawmakers to support state House Bill 302, which would protect women’s sports. Linnea you have the floor.
Linnea Saltz: Hello everyone. Thank you so much for allowing me to share with you all today. My passion for running wasn’t something that started until later in my life, yet I recently made the decision to extend my running career longer than expected because of my love for the sport. I’m currently a graduate student at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where I transferred after receiving my undergraduate degree from Southern Utah in the spring of 2020. My day-to-day schedule, though, is a little different than that of a normal student athlete. I wake up on Monday mornings at 5:45 a.m. in order to get to practice but following practice I rush to work from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. just to come home and go to my classes for the remainder of my night. Although my days are long and tiring, I can’t wait to wake up each morning and participate in the sport that I love. I sacrifice a multitude of things of each day in order to focus on being the best that I can at my sport, and representing myself, as well as women athletes all across the country. All this sacrifice seems so small though when I’m able to celebrate the success of my training, but that was up for debate in my last year of collegiate eligibility in the NCAA. Before starting my senior season at Southern Utah University, we received word that the first male-to-female transgender was not only going to be competing for the time in Division I athletics, but it was going to be a face that was familiar to me, as they had previously been competing in my conference on the men’s team at the University of Montana. Being the defending 800-meter Big Sky Conference Champion, I immediately jumped online to see what I was going to have to be competing against this season. All hope was lost when I realized that the male-to-female transgender I was going to be competing against had a personal best time of one minute and fifty-five seconds in the 800-meter, ten seconds faster than the best time I had posted the season prior. I took a step back and realized that my senior year was no longer going to be about the sacrifices, hard work, pain, and dedication I put forth the last four years. It was going to be about fairness in women’s sports being stripped away right in front of me. An athlete that had previously competed on the men’s team was now going to be racing against me and all of my teammates. An athlete that had a personal best time of three minutes and fifty seconds in the 1500 meter, which might I add is a world record time for women, was going to be on the starting line standing next to me. An athlete that was born a male and competed as a male was going to be racing me for a spot on the first-place podium that I had been working tirelessly for. Being able to travel all over the country and not only represent my university but to represent myself is a phenomenal feeling. Running among some of the best female runners not only in college but in the world is something I never thought I’d be able to experience. As crazy as it may seem, the pain, the shortness of breath, and the lack of energy I have after a practice all seems well worth it when I go out onto the track to win. Track is something I work really hard to be good at – in fact, I fight so much just to get a half a second faster. I love track because I get to see the hard work I put in at practice be rewarded when I run and get first place. Knowing that this is a feeling that many women may no longer be able to experience is a horrible thought. Men are able to celebrate fairness in their sports, so it should only make sense that we can as well. It is discouraging for girls and women everywhere to think that they may have to compete against an individual that has a biological advantage over them. Taking away our opportunities will run us out of the sports world which we already had to fight so hard to be a part of. Knowing that no matter how much time, energy, and effort I put into this sport, I may no longer be able to experience the feeling of being first place again is devastating. Although there may be women that are taller and stronger than that of an average athlete, they do not possess the physiological advantage that a male-to-female transgender athlete does. It is a biological fact that men have proportionately more muscle mass, bone mass, and a lower percentage of body fat than women. Because of this, it affects the way they run, lift, train, and compete in any sport. This is a bipartisan issue that boils down to biology. This is why women should only be allowed to compete against other women and not forced to compete against men. What I experienced was unfair and no woman should have to stand on the line, walk onto the court, or enter a stadium and feel as if they’ve already lost before the competition has even begun. Women deserve a fair chance and although there is a place for everyone in this world, being an NCAA women’s athlete is a privilege and not a right. We should perceive the problem and ensure that women everywhere remain excited to participate in sports and continue to allow athletics to be a part of their identity. Thank you guys so much.
Jennifer C. Braceras: Wonderful. Thank you, Linnea. And thank you to all of our athletes who have spoken today. I would like to segue now to call on some of our policymakers. First up is Mississippi State Senator Angela Hill, who will give her statement on a bill she has sponsored in Mississippi, the Mississippi Fairness Act. The Mississippi Fairness Act establishes that when it comes to public and college athletics in the State of Mississippi, sex will be determined on the basis of biological sex at birth, not gender identity. The Fairness Act has just passed the Mississippi Senate. Go ahead, Senator Hill. We look forward to hearing from you.
Senator Angela Hill: Thank you so much for having me today on the call. I first filed the Mississippi Fairness Act in 2020 because I believe that women’s sports is worth saving. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee last year, but I’m happy to report that at 10:00 pm on Thursday, February 11, 2021, the Mississippi Fairness Act passed the Mississippi Senate by a vote of 34 to 9, with 21 cosponsors. I’d like to publicly thank the cosponsors, as they took a strong stance of both science and common sense by adding their names to this bill. We must now get this bill through the Mississippi House and onto the desk of Governor Tate Reeves. We are looking at a March 2nd deadline to get the bill out of the House committee. The speaker can move this bill along and send a strong message that women athletes matter in the State of Mississippi. The vast majority of Mississippi voters agree that women’s sports are worth saving. In a Mason-Dixon poll done prior to Biden’s executive order, 79% of Mississippians said they supported a state law prohibiting biological males from competing in female-only sporting leagues and events. That poll indicated support from 87% of Republicans, 83% of independents, and 65% of Democrats across the state. I believe the response would even be higher today. Coaches in Mississippi know that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, since Mississippi is one of a handful of states with no policy to fall back on. In 2020, Mississippi, along with over a dozen other states, filed amicus briefs in support of Idaho’s law. I have heard from Mississippi coaches and parents that they want this law passed now. Title IX was designed to stop discrimination and create equal athletic opportunities for women. States cannot be silent on this issue if we still believe that women athletes deserve a fair playing field. Allowing biological males to compete in girl-only sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities. Girls should not be spectators in their own sports. Doing nothing will result in the end of female sports as we have known it for years. Women fought long and hard for equal athletic opportunities and they deserve our support today. Allowing males to compete in girls-only sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women. I was asked by my local paper what I thought would happen if laws like the Fairness Act aren’t passed. My response was that allowing males to compete in female-only sports spells the end of girls’ sports. We will be left with men’s sports and co-ed sports. We just can’t allow that to happen. We don’t want more females across the country to be forced to endure what has happened to the female athletes in Connecticut. I stand with these Connecticut women in their quest for justice and equality. This is no longer a hypothetical situation. It is happening in real life all across the country, and it’s about to happen in Mississippi if we do nothing. We constantly hear the words “follow the science.” Well, saving women’s sports is following the science. Science and common sense tell us that males are generally bigger, faster, and stronger than females. It [inaudible] female athletes would lose to literally hundreds of men almost any given day. Men have larger hearts, stronger muscles, and denser bones. Male athletes consistently achieve performances 10 to 20% better than comparable fit female athletes. Biological differences between the sexes is the reason we have women’s sports in the first place. My own mother was a competitive dancer. She trained hours upon hours and overcame torn ligaments and other injuries to remain competitive. She did some wonderful co-ed dancing with a very talented male dancer. They were great as a co-ed team, but one on one she was no match for him, even though she was at the top of her game competing against other female dancers. Every male on the podium erases the dream of a deserving girl. A male’s belief about his gender does not erase his physical advantages over female athletes. The message to girls if we do nothing is: You deserve equal opportunities except in sports. So, I keep asking myself the question that if our country is willing to allow sports to be taken away from women, what’s next? You cannot be a champion of women and believe that biological males should be welcomed in to claim women and girls’ sports titles and take women’s scholarships. The passage of the Mississippi Fairness Act through one chamber of the legislature has made the news, and legislators in other states have begun reaching out to me wanting to pass this in their states. So, let’s get rolling and show women that they really do matter in every arena of life. We must not allow a lifetime of training and hard work by female athletes to be destroyed by the stroke of one misguided pen. Your sisters’ and daughters’ dreams and goals should matter to everyone. Together we can bring some common sense and science back to the table and save women’s sports. Women have worked too hard to secure the equal opportunities they have enjoyed to have those opportunities stolen away by half-baked policies that are neither sound in science nor common sense. Passing bills like the Mississippi Fairness Act is the right thing to do. These bills will protect women, save Title IX, and uphold the integrity of high school and college sports in Mississippi and across the nation. Thank you again for giving me this opportunity to speak today.
Jennifer C. Braceras: Thank you so much, Senator Hill, for that statement and for all of the work that you are doing on this issue. Finally, it is my great pleasure to introduce U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Senator Lee has led 13 of his colleagues in introducing the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, federal legislation that would protect athletic opportunities for female athletes. Thank you for joining us, Senator Lee.
Senator Mike Lee: Thank you very much. It’s good to be with you.
Jennifer C. Braceras: This is Jennifer Braceras with Independent Women’s Forum and you are on the line with a number of talented female athletes and State Senator Hill from Mississippi. We understand that you have sponsored legislation, the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, that would protect athletic opportunities for female athletes nationwide. Tell us about that legislation.
Senator Mike Lee: Thank you so much. Thank you for letting me join you today. Yeah, the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act is a bill that I’ve introduced that would strengthen and protect female sports, ensuring that fair competition continues. In order to ensure that the integrity and fairness of sports for women and girls is protected, under the bill, any recipient of federal funding that operates, sponsors, or facilitates athletic programs or activities and permits any male, any biologic male to participate in a women’s sporting event should be found to be in violation of the statutory restrictions contained in Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No matter how many hormones a biological male might take, the vast majority of the time in which he competes against a female he has an unfair advantage. For example, young men in amateur sports consistently compete at higher levels than even the highest levels of competition set by some of the most accomplished female athletes in the entire world in all of history. This is a reality that is so undeniable that even the fastest female sprinter in the world, Allyson Felix, a woman with more gold medals than Usain Bolt, would have her lifetime best in the 400-meter run beat by nearly 300 high school boys, just in the United States alone. So, while transgender athletes don’t always win when competing against their peers, their presence in female athletics has serious negative consequences for the future of women’s and girls’ sports. Allowing biological males to take the place of women on sports teams would end up diminishing nearly 50 years of significant progress on women’s sports in America. And this really happens in a way that it will necessarily be limiting opportunities for female athletes to compete and to succeed on an amateur stage and on a professional stage as well. And so, you know, as a father, I want my daughter, and all women, and all girls for that matter, to have every chance to achieve success on the field and off the field. This is something we have got to do. And make no mistake – the efforts that some people are making in this area are really nothing short of an all-out assault that seeks to end women’s sports. I don’t know of any other way to put it. I don’t know any other way to interpret that. When what they are saying is that someone who was born male and has even gone through puberty as a male can decide through his own volition to identify as female, that is an end to women’s sports. And I think we have got to acknowledge as much.
This concludes today’s save women’s sports call, hosted by Independent Women’s Forum. Please visit IWF.org for more information about IWF, and to read our work on this issue. If you have any follow-up questions for any of our speakers no today’s call, please email [email protected].