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HB 1041 aims to keep school sports 'fair' by banning transgender girls. But is it an issue in Indiana?

House Bill 1041 protestors

(Alan Mbathi/IPB News)

The Indiana Senate is set to vote on a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from participating in school sports for girls.

House Bill 1041’s advocates say it ensures athletes assigned female at birth get a level playing field as the debate around transgender women in sports heats up nationally.

But LGBTQ advocates such as Nathaniel Clawson of Bloomington say the bill addresses a problem that doesn’t exist in Indiana and will have a negative impact on trans youth.

“(My daughter) exists as a girl all day long. And to be told that she is not a girl when it comes to sports, that doesn't make sense to me,” Clawson said.

Clawson’s daughter Kirin is transgender. From early on, she knew she was a girl – she was always drawn to her sister’s dresses and tutus, and would throw tantrums if she didn’t get to wear one. Clawson recalls when she made it clear after a bath when she was about 3.

“She was talking about there were parts of her body that she didn't think that she should have,” Clawson said. “Kirin was the first transgender person my wife and I had ever met.”

Kirin Clawson
Third grader Kirin Clawson gets ready for a serve during volleyball camp at Childs Elementary in Bloomington. (Devan Ridgway, WTIU/WFIU News)

As a father, Clawson’s concerned about how HB 1041 could impact his 9-year-old in the future. Team sports don’t start until 7th grade for Monroe County Community School Corporation students and Clawson doesn’t want that opportunity taken away from her.

“The relationships that you build with your friends while you're going for that common goal is just so important,” Clawson said. “What that does to a kid and teaches them how to prioritize and balance, those are things that I don't want my daughter to miss out on.”

The bill would apply to K through 12 public schools and some private schools, and would require grievance procedures to be established for violations. It wouldn’t prohibit transgender boys from participating in boys’ sports.

READ MORE: LGBTQ advocates condemn bill to ban trans girl student athletes, national group supporting it

Rep. Michelle Davis (R-Whiteland) is sponsoring the bill. She declined an interview for this story, but said in an emailed statement the bill is about protecting fair competition in girls’ sports.

“This legislation is the result of listening to the concerns of female student athletes and parents in my district and across the state,” Davis wrote. “As a former Division I college athlete, I know the life lessons and opportunities competing in sports provided to me while growing up and as a young adult. This bill is aimed at protecting those same opportunities for Hoosier girls now and in the future.”

But if you ask the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), that hasn’t been an issue in the decade-plus the organization has had a transgender participation policy.

“The association has not received an application for a biological male to participate as a female,” IHSAA Commissioner Paul Neidig said. “It certainly could happen any day, but as of now, we have not received an application that would be ruled upon.”

Under the current policy, transgender students can apply for a waiver to participate in sports that correspond with their gender identities. Neidig said IHSAA has received and approved one application for a transgender student to participate in school sports – a trans boy who wanted to run cross country.

When it comes to trans girls, they need to show they’ve gotten hormone treatments for at least a year or undergo a medically confirmed gender reassignment procedure and complete a physical that shows their bone structure and muscle mass are consistent with girls their age.

Kirin’s parents want her to have that opportunity – not to be a champion volleyball player, but to get that experience of being on a team and being accepted for who she is.

“Laws like this just even being proposed cause trans kids to stay in the closet,” Clawson said. “The mental health toll that it takes on these trans kids, just putting a law out there like this is really tough.”

The Clawsons have testified against 1041 at the Statehouse multiple times since it was first introduced. The ACLU of Indiana has come out against the bill, saying it tells trans kids they don’t belong and shouldn’t have the same opportunities as others.

Eighty-five percent of trans children report that this constant atmosphere of political threat is having a negative impact on their mental health,” ACLU advocacy strategist Kit Malone said. “And we're talking about a population of kids that have an extraordinarily high suicide rate. So, this is really, really troubling.”

More than half of trans youth considered killing themselves in 2020, according to a report from the Trevor Project, a national nonprofit that works toward suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. The ACLU of Indiana plans to file a lawsuit against the state if the bill becomes law.

If HB 1041 passes, Indiana would become the 11th state to ban transgender girls from girls’ sports. Federal judges have stopped two of those states – Idaho and West Virginia – from enforcing those laws.

“It is the first one in all of this time (in Indiana) that has really managed to make it this far, which shows the increasing appetite the lawmakers have to engage in this kind of discrimination,” Malone said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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