‘It’s creepy’: Sen. Ron Johnson weighs in on transgender issues

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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on Tuesday objected to transgender women competing in women’s sports and said “it’s creepy” for them to be allowed in women’s bathrooms.

After trans woman Lia Thomas’ NCAA title win last week infuriated Republican politicians across the country and set off a national debate about trans athletes’ place in sports, the Oshkosh Republican said at a virtual town hall Tuesday, “First of all, I think most Americans agree with you in terms of the transgender issue. You shouldn’t allow biological males to compete against girls. I mean, it’s just disheartening to the girls.”

“We shouldn’t allow biological males to be going into women’s bathrooms,” Johnson added. “It’s creepy. It’s just not good.”

His comments came in response to a town hall participant saying it was offensive to him as a father to see trans women competing in women’s swimming and entering women’s bathrooms.

“I think most Americans agree with you there. There’s got to be a commonsense approach without discriminating, that type of thing, so everybody can live together in peace and harmony,” Johnson continued. “I think most people agree with you on transgender … It’s the left that keeps pushing these types of issues on us.”

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In a Gallup poll administered in May 2021, 34% of U.S. adults said athletes should play on teams that match their gender identity while 62% said they should play on teams matching their sex assigned at birth. Just over half of Democrats and 10% of Republicans said they favored transgender athletes playing on teams that match their gender identity.

In a 2016 poll, the Pew Research Center found just over half of Americans support transgender people using restrooms of their current gender identity.

Two Gallup polls — in 2016 and 2017 — found that just over half of survey respondents favored transgender people using bathrooms corresponding with their assigned sex at birth, but the second survey showed an increasing number of Americans supporting transgender people using bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alex Lasry, who congratulated Thomas on Twitter after her win last week, said banning trans women from competing in women’s sports is transphobic.

“All women — including trans women — deserve to be protected from discrimination, and free to be their true selves,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, another Democratic Senate candidate, said if he’s elected he would fight to pass the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, bathrooms and other areas.

“Wisconsinites deserve a Senator who will protect everyone’s rights,” he said.

Johnson’s comments on Tuesday come almost one year after he and almost every other Republican U.S. senator voted against trans woman Rachel Levine to be Assistant Secretary of Health. With 52 senators voting in favor, Levine became the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

His comments on Tuesday also come as state Legislatures across the country weigh limiting transgender rights. In Wisconsin, the Assembly and Senate passed the “Parental Bill of Rights,” allowing parents to sue school officials for not using parents’ requested pronouns and gender identities for their children.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is expected to veto the bill.

“Forcing students to endure the wrong name or wrong pronouns, day in and day out, will only serve to further increase the already alarming statistics on depression among LGBTQ+ people in Wisconsin,” Human Rights Campaign Wisconsin director Wendy Strout said.

In February, Republican legislators introduced a proposal, AB977 and SB915, that would have prohibited physicians and health care providers from providing gender transition procedures to people under 18. The bills did not receive a public hearing or a floor vote.

In March, NPR reported, Iowa became the 11th state to enact a transgender sports ban after Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia governors signed similar bills into law. South Dakota’s governor also enacted a ban through an executive order.

After Thomas’ win, Republican governors in Utah and Indiana vetoed legislation that would have banned trans women from competing in women’s sports.

Explaining his decision to veto the bill in a letter to legislative leaders, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said while he doesn’t fully understand transgender rights, “I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion.”

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