The U.S. bishops are calling on Catholics to contact their representatives and senators in Congress and urge them to vote for a bill that would protect women and girls' opportunities in sports by requiring federally funded female sports programs "to be reserved for biological females."

The proposed Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, "would promote fairness and safety for women and girls by ensuring female athletes can compete on a safe and level playing field with other females," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in an April 14 alert.

The USCCB alert indicated a vote is expected during the week of April 17.

The bill is "consistent" with the Catholic Church's "clear teaching on the equality of men and women and the truth that we are created male and female," the USCCB said.

"Youth who experience gender identity discordance should be able to participate in sports, and any harassment against these young people is unequivocally wrong," it said. The USCCB said that by passing the measure (S. 613/HR 734), "Congress would not deny such youth the ability to play sports, but would simply be protecting women and girls and preserving their hard-won opportunities."

The measure sponsored by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., would make it a federal crime under Title IX for anyone who receives federal funds and operates, sponsors or facilitates athletic programs to allow biological males to compete in athletic programs that are designated for women or girls.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational program -- including college athletics -- that is federally funded, either directly or indirectly.

In a March 3 letter to Tuberville and Steube, the chairmen of the USCCB family life and youth and education committees wrote in support of the bill.

Citing church teaching on the equality of men and women, Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education, said, "We reaffirm that, in education and in sports, we must seek to avoid anything that undermines human dignity, including denial of a person's body which is genetically and biologically female or male, or unequal treatment between women and men."

The USCCB chairmen called Title IX "a needed landmark to establish equal educational opportunities for women and girls. H.R. 734 and S. 613 would help ensure the continued viability of Title IX."

"Equal treatment between women and men has particular relevance in athletics, where male competition in activities designated for women and girls can be both unfair and, especially in high-contact sports, unsafe," the bishops wrote. "In general, males possess distinct physical advantages in a number of sports, and this is already playing out in athletic events worldwide."

At least 20 states have passed laws banning athletes who identify as transgender from competing on teams that are the opposite of their biological sex. In response, the Biden administration April 6 proposed a new federal rule change that would allow for schools to enforce some restrictions on student athletes who identify as transgender, but states that policies violate Title IX "when they categorically ban transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity just because of who they are," according to a public notice from the U.S. Department of Education.

The rule was published in the Federal Register April 13, opening a 30-day period for public comment.

The bishops noted that challenges to sports based on gender "are increasingly common as, sadly, the number of persons experiencing gender identity discordance rises steeply, especially among adolescents."

Young people "who experience gender identity discordance" should be assured of "their right to participate in, or try-out for, student athletics on the same terms as their peers … in coeducational activities, or where the sexes are separated, in accord with their biological sex."

Bishops Barron and Daly said that harassment or unjust discrimination of these young people "is unequivocally wrong." They said "a loving response which affirms the value of all persons as fellow human beings helps those who experience gender identity discordance to attain peace with their mind and body, rather than facilitating drastic ‘transitions' in pursuit of an identity fully independent of their physical body."