SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler are among a group of Republican senators looking to withhold federal funds from schools that allow transgender women to participate in women's and girls sports.
Lee said there are instances in mixed martial arts, football, running and even roller derby where women have been injured or lost championships and scholarships because they were at a competitive disadvantage against biological males.
"This is not about being transphobic or having anything against transgender persons," he said. "This is a simple question of fairness and physical safety."
Lee and Loeffler, who is fighting to retain her seat in a runoff election, talked about the issue during an online forum Tuesday put on by the conservative American Principles Project.
Loeffler, Lee and three other GOP senators introduced the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act in September.
The bill would to make it a violation of Title IX for a school that receives federal education funds to allow a biological male to participate in women's and girls' sports. Under the bill, schools that did so would be in danger of losing federal funding. The legislation has yet to have a Senate hearing.
Loeffler attributed her success in life to the qualities she gained playing sports in high school, including competing in track and going on to run marathons.
"I want that for every girl," she said, adding that it's "common sense" that girls should compete against biological girls. She said the bill would protect women and girls by safeguarding fairness and leveling the playing field that Title IX guarantees.
The issue has made its way into the courts in several states.
The Fairness in Women's Sports Act would not allow athletes to participate on a women's team without first verifying that person's "internal and external reproductive anatomy" if her sex is disputed.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law, called the decision to block it from taking effect a welcome first step for transgender athletes.
"Transgender people belong in Idaho, including on school sports teams," Ritchie Eppink, ACLU of Idaho legal director, said in August.
In July, Lee sharply challenged the NCAA's opposition to the Idaho law. He said he was concerned about the NCAA undermining women by pushing schools to allow individuals born biologically of one gender to participate in another gender's sports.
"I'm worried about some of the policies that you've taken," he told NCAA President Mark Emmert. "It's offensive to me and to millions of Americans that the great strides our society has taken to protect women's rights and women's sports are now at risk of being undone."
In Connecticut, three high school girls who lost track titles to males who identify as females sued the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference over a policy that allows biological males to compete as girls in high school sports.
Transgender athletes have also fought against legislation aimed at limiting their participation due to their gender identity, arguing in some cases the such policies violate Title IX.
Lee said without rules that govern what biological males can do, "you're going to have a problem." The biggest concern, he said, is about those would assert they are transgendered when they are not.
"It is especially about those biological males who might as a pretext use certain words in order to qualify themselves in girls and women's athletics. Some of them might do it to win a prize or a trophy or scholarship. Others might do it just to prove that they can or for bragging rights. Others still might do it in a deliberate, sadistic effort to harm girls and women," the senator said.
In September, the American Principles Project ran an ad in Michigan claiming Democratic Sen. Gary Peters and now President-elect Joe Biden would destroy girls sport because they support the Equality Act, which passed the House last year. The law aims to expand federal civil rights law by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.
"All female athletes want is a fair shot at competition, at a scholarship, at a title, at victory. But what if that shot was taken away by a competitor who claims to be a girl but was born a boy?" the ad says.
Facebook rejected the spot as a paid advertisement and applied a "fact check" label to organic posts of the ad after LGBTQ rights groups condemned the ad and PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking project at the nonprofit Poynter Institute, said that it was "missing context and could mislead people."
Lee said he reached out to Facebook, which he contends seeks to silence conservative voices, to see what context the ad lacked. Context is routinely left out of product ads, he said.
"If you're trying to advertise Coke, Pepsi could say you don't portray it in context with Pepsi. This is much more devious even that, though, where you have a social media giant, Facebook, saying we don't like the message."
Lee said the ad was "truthful" because the Equality Act would make it impossible for girls to compete and would leave only unisex competition. He called it a "backdoor, judicial fiat imposed, soft repeal" of Title IX.