- After apologizing for her past anti-gay views during her ill-fated presidential campaign, the Hawaii Congresswoman is apparently seeking to reinstate her alleged homophobic credentials.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation in the House on Thursday that would bar schools from receiving federal funding if they allow transgender girls and women and non-binary people to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender identities.
The bill — co-sponsored by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)— was met with immediate outrage from transgender activists and allies such as Amee Vanderpool, who labeled the legislation “blatantly transphobic and unacceptable” on her Twitter page.
The “Protect Women’s Sports Acts,” which aims to do what the name suggests by limiting the protections extended under Title IX of the Educational Amendments to “biological sex” — a term frequently used to mean the gender assigned to someone at birth — as determined by a physician. In other words, the bill would prevent people who were determined to be males at birth from participating in women’s sports.
Transgender and other gender-nonconforming athletes would no longer be protected from discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal funding and transgender women would be disallowed from such programs entirely.
Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in educational programs that receive federal financial assistance. The new bill would bar schools from receiving such funds if they permit “a person whose biological sex at birth is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.”
In a statement, Gabbard said, “Title IX was a historic provision … to provide equal opportunity for women and girls in high school and college sports. It led to a generational shift that impacted countless women, creating life-changing opportunities for girls and women that never existed before,” Gabbard said in a statement to HuffPost. “However, Title IX is being weakened by some states who are misinterpreting Title IX, creating uncertainty, undue hardship and lost opportunities for female athletes. It is critical that the legacy of Title IX continues to ensure women and girls in sports have the opportunity to compete and excel on a level playing field.”
A similar law was passed in Idaho, earlier this year, and it was criticized because it allowed anyone to challenge a student athlete’s gender, which would force athletes to undergo DNA tests and “genital exams.”
Republican Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler introduced a similar bill, titled “The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” in the Senate in September. Loeffler’s bill has not been taken up for a vote.
Gabbard faced immediate backlash for the legislation on social media from the LGBTQ+ community and its advocates, where critics posited it was a blatant attempt to legislate anti-transgender discrimination.
A netizen Akbar Shahid Ahmed tweeted, “Tulsi Gabbard, who began her political career condemning “homosexual extremists,” is using her last few weeks in Congress to try to strip federal funds from schools that let transgender women and girls participate in teams for women and girls.”
Speaking to American Kahani, California-based political organizer, Sameera Rajwade, who identifies as non-binary, said, “I honestly think this is a really dumb bill, obviously made by people who don’t understand gender of biology. The way that your body is made up, your physique, your physical performance is not dependent on your biological sex. It’s dependent on other factors like your weight, your training and your ability. I don’t see the logic behind this.”
Rajwade adds that when she/they were a high school athlete, she/they would spar in Taekwondo and oftentimes, would have to compete against men as there were only two women in the studio. “Sometimes I would lose and sometimes I would win. It didn’t matter if they were bigger than me or stronger. I had certain skills and I had ways to maneuver myself, which was different from how they would and sometimes I would win. We (her male competitor and she/they) were both athletes and both capable of winning and losing.”
Wondering if this is what we as a society should be talking about now, Rajwade says, “I had hoped we as a society had advanced past this.”
A solution that Rajwade sees is “Letting people create their own teams based on their skills,” adding, “we look at gender too much, when really athletics is about your weight, height and how much experience you have. It’s about qualifications rather than gender. I fell if we have our own sports team for non-binary, transgendered athletes, they’re not going to be as well-funded. There will be an obvious economic bias. But I also feel this takes away from the love of playing a sport.”
Before Gabbard was elected to Congress, she worked for her father Mike Gabbard’s anti-LGBTQ organization, the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which mobilized to pass a measure against same-sex marriage in Hawaii and promoted controversial conversion therapy. She was 17 at the time. She later cited this as a positive experience when she ran for the state legislature in 2002.
Gabbard’s father Mike was a prominent anti-gay activist in Hawaii. He was also the director of Stop Promoting Homosexuality and also served on the steering committees of the National Campaign to Protect Marriage and the Hawaii-based coalition, Save Traditional Marriage. He also once hosted an anti-gay radio show, Let’s Talk Straight Hawaii.
The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, was a political action committee aimed at opposing pro-gay lawmakers and legislation that organized and spent more than $100,000 to pass an amendment in 1998 that gave the Hawaii state legislature power to “reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.” The Alliance for Traditional Marriage called homosexuality “unhealthy, abnormal behavior that should not be promoted or accepted in society.”
The amendment to the state’s constitution passed.
Talking to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2002, Gabbard had said, “Working with my father, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good.”
Tulsi Gabbard’s anti-gay efforts continued after she became a state representative.
Gabbard faced scrutiny last year after homophobic remarks she’d made in 2004, at a hearing opposing a civil union’s bill in 2004 resurfaced. “To try to act as if there is a difference between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii,” Gabbard had said at the time. “As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”
At least twice that year, the Democrat had publicly called the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage supporters “homosexual extremists.”
Since joining Congress in 2013, Gabbard has supported efforts to promote LGBT equality, including co-sponsoring pro-LGBT legislation like The Equality Act, a bill to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT individuals.
“I grew up in a very kind of conservative household. A multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-faith home,” Gabbard said in New Hampshire in December, speaking to CNN of her shift. “Diverse in our makeup and diverse in our views. And I held views growing up that I no longer hold.”
Back in January, on the Presidential campaign, Gabbard had apologized for her past anti-LGBTQ+ views. “I want to apologize for statements that I have made in the past that have been very divisive and even disrespectful to those within the LGBT community,” Gabbard said. “I know that those comments have been hurtful and I sincerely offer my apology to you and hope that you will accept it.”
Gabbard, who was the first Hindu member to be elected to Congress (2012), became a polarizing figure. She was embraced early on by pro-Modi elements of the Hindu-American community, who donated generously to her campaigns. And as she flirted with the idea of running for president, she publicly cut ties with those fervent supporters on at least one occasion, while reportedly continuing to court them in private.
Gabbard, who dropped out of the presidential race in March, did not run for re-election in the House of Representatives and will end her term in January 2021. Since assuming office in 2013, she voted and lobbied against same-sex marriage in her state, as well as civil unions and opposed research on students’ sexuality.
She later told HuffPost in a statement that she regretted “the positions I took in the past” and noted her more recent support for legislation “that ensures equal rights and protections on LGBTQ+ issues.” In 2017, for instance, she backed a bill targeting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
However, a new bill stripping transgender rights under Title IX may be sending another message.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.