2023 Leg Session, Featured, Gold Dome, Sherrie Peif

Bill shoots for equity in high school, college sports; restricts competition to biological sex

DENVER — Proponents of a bill making its way through the Colorado legislature say it would protect the rights of women playing sports in high school and college, while honoring the purpose of federal Title IX civil rights protections.

House Bill 23-1098 would require any intercollegiate, interscholastic, intramural, or club athletic team, sport, or athletic event offer teams for males, females, or coeducational purposes. Athletes would only be allowed to participate based on their biological sex.

The bill was introduced in the House by Representatives by Lisa Frizell, R-Castle Rock and Brandi Bradley, R-Littleton.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Byron Pelton, R-Sterling, the freshman senator who replaced Jerry Sonnenberg after he was termed out, says he is fulfilling a promise he made himself as a father as well as sending a message to the women and girls in his district, and across Colorado.

“This is a women’s rights issue,” Pelton said. “I am trying to do the best I can as a father to protect my daughters’ rights to play basketball or volleyball in an equal way. Title IX is very important in sports, and I want to make sure that my daughters have the opportunity just like every daughter across the state of Colorado to play on an equal playing field.”

Title IX is a federal Civil Rights law established in 1972 that banned discrimination in higher education on the basis of sex. However, one of Title IX’s biggest impacts was on high school and college sports. At a simple level, it requires an equal number of women’s sports offered for competition as men, equal pay for coaches in both men’s and women’s sports, and an equal number of scholarships offered to women as there are for men. Colleges and high schools that do not meet the requirements lose federal funding.

Over the past few years, transgender athletes competing based on their gender identity have been met by much controversy, most notably Lia Thomas winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle in the NCAA swimming championships, becoming the first transgender athlete to win a women’s sport.

Eighteen states have enacted laws banning transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities.

Pelton has two daughters, ages 15 and 13, one of which currently participates in sports. He said this issue is very important to him on the basis of keeping competition fair and equal.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are at the forefront of our society right now,” Pelton said. “But if the efforts to focus on one underrepresented population ends up creating discrimination toward another group, then those efforts have failed.”

Pelton said although he does not want to see girls lose women’s scholarship opportunities because an athlete assigned as a male at birth is awarded the scholarship in the name of equity, he still recognizes transgender athletes.

“We must certainly remain compassionate to those who are transgender and never forget they are also someone’s children,” Pelton said. “I just want to make sure that my daughters understand I am doing everything I can to make sure that they will be equal in everything they do.”

However, it appears unlikely the bill will make it out of committee for a floor debate. It will be heard at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 in room LSB A where it is assigned to the State, Civic, Military & Veterans Affairs committee. Although it is the likely spot of a bill of this type, this committee is also what is known inside the legislature as the “kill committee,” or the place the Democrat majority leadership sends all bills they want to see die.


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