UPDATE Nov. 19: We’re happy to report that a judge in Washington State approved a legal name change this Transgender Awareness Week. Congratulations, Bobby Jones!
ORIGINAL STORY: A 13-year-old who just wanted to play his sport was told he was locked out of the game because of a policy centered around who he is.
Bobby Jones, a soccer-loving transgender boy living in Kirkwood, Wash., wasn’t taking that decision lying down.
As KIRO-TV reported, Jones is a goalkeeper for a local youth team, Titans FC Bellevue. Last year, Jones came out as trans, and signed-up to play on a boys team with the soccer club. Titans FC was fully supportive and it looked like the only thing that would delay him getting on the pitch would be the coronavirus pandemic.
However, there would be another obstacle to Jones protecting the Titan FC net. The Puget Sound Premier League policy states: “In the PSPL, players must play on teams of their same sex.”
“It’s a gut punch as a parent. Trans youth face so many barriers already,” Bobby’s mother, Eleanor Jones, told KIRO in a September interview. “Maybe they’re just not aware of what their policy is doing to players, and maybe they’ve never encountered an openly trans athlete before.”
The policy of the United States Soccer Federation stands in stark contrast to the local league’s. The national governing body of the sport states: “A player may register with the gender team with which the player identifies, and confirmation sufficient for guaranteeing access shall be satisfied by documentation or evidence that shows the stated gender is sincerely held, and part of a person’s core identity.”
Bobby’s parents said that representatives of the league told them via email that they were looking at their policy but that any changes would take time to implement. The league’s director was quoted by KIRO as saying that Bobby was not being prevented from playing, and due to the current situation with COVID-19, no games were being played.
The explanation didn’t sit well with Bobby’s parents. “The argument’s been made that no games are being played now, So why does it matter?” Eleanor Jones asked rhetorically. “We know that issues around social justice don’t have a particular timeline.”
In an October interview with Malcontent News, Eleanor revealed that Titans FC had another transgender player compete last season, but when they learned of the PSPL policy, the player left the team.
For Bobby, a similar ending would be unacceptable. “You have to stand up for what you believe in, or change is never going to happen,” he told KIRO.
The family and team have mounted a social media drive to generate support for Bobby. Their hashtag #LetBobbyPlay caught an influential eye.
Legal Voice stands with 13-year-old Bobby Jones who has been wrongly excluded from the boys' team by a discriminatory policy of the Puget Sound Premiere League. We'd be happy to talk with him about his legal options.#letbobbyplay @psplsoccer @Titanspremierfc— Legal Voice (@Legal_Voice) September 25, 2020
The story also caught the attention of the Seattle Sounders. The MLS team’s ambassador and former standout captain Brad Evans, a 12-year veteran and two-time MLS Cup champion player, met with Bobby, and affirmed his support for his right to play. “Everyone should be involved regardless of how they identify and regardless of who they are,” Evans told KIRO in October.
On Nov. 2, the PSPL unveiled its new policy, allowing a transgender player to compete on a team matching their gender identity, provided they produce “documentation or evidence that stated gender is sincerely held.” Bobby’s mother told Outsports she’s concerned about these extra burdens placed on families like hers.
One is the proof that’s required, including “government-issued ID or documentation provided by health care provider, or other qualified professional not related to the player.” That documentation must be submitted at least six weeks prior to the start of play. There’s also another provision: any player who is trans and wants to register must notify the league of their status at least eight weeks prior to the start of play.
Eleanor Jones told Outsports that those planks of the policy are in need of revision, and that her family intends to be a part of the process going forward. “Bobby has been adamant from day one that this is about other trans players, too,” she said. “We are continuing to work with the league on refining this new policy, so that all trans youth and their families can simply play on the team that aligns with their gender.”
Eleanor Jones is our guest this week on the Outsports podcast The Trans Sporter Room.