“We all agree on one thing, that trans rights are undeniably human rights.” — Monica Roberts
That’s what the proud Texan trans rights advocate and award-winning Transgriot blogger stridently said during our conversation on The Trans Sporter Room podcast a few days after Transgender Day of Remembrance 2019. In addition to being an advocate, Roberts was an avid tennis player and a huge football fan.
Entering into Trans Awareness Week 2020, her death still cuts deep. Another punch in the gut in a year that has felt like a siege for trans people.
As I write this, at least 34 transgender people in the U.S. have been murdered; A majority of them are transgender women of color. The COVID-19 pandemic has derailed support services, health care, and employment for thousands of transgender people.
In the middle of it all we heard the continuing warble about participation in sports. From high-powered K Street transphobes and the politicians they finance, who are targeting transgender high school kids in Connecticut, to legislators who are assaulting transgender students in nine states with discriminatory bills and laws, the hits kept on coming.
The biggest punch landed the day before Trans Day of Visibility in March. Idaho Governor Brad Little signed into law a measure that would ban transgender women and girls from playing sports for any school in the state. It was first such action that any state codified into law and it is spawning imitators.
Tennessee has introduced a wholesale ban on trans young people participating in athletics (including those who transition pre-puberty) and would likely bar many intersex athletes. HB3 Text: https://t.co/k6KF1cWHtH— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) November 12, 2020
Lawmakers in Tennessee have placed a similar act on the docket recently. Georgia’s embattled U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican facing a runoff election in January against her Democratic opponent with control of the Senate at stake, put forth a federal trans-student athlete ban as a campaign promise.
Proud to lead this effort in defense of women & girls.— Senator Kelly Loeffler (@SenatorLoeffler) September 22, 2020
Title IX established a fair chance for girls of all ages to compete—Sports should be no exception.@SenMikeLee @MarshaBlackburn @SenatorLankford @SenTomCotton & I are ensuring a level playing field. https://t.co/stG06XTW52
Amid all the issues trans communities face, some may see the fight over sports as a hill not worth dying on. A few voices on Twitter relayed that sentiment to me. I find that view abhorrent. As a person who loves my community and loves to compete in sports, I reject such a concept out of hand. I reject any attempt to lock us out of sports with the same intensity as I stand for any of our rights.
Even in a year that has seen many games listed postponed-coronavirus we’ve seen breakthrough performances. Chris Mosier, no stranger to breaking barriers, broke through to be the first transgender American athlete to compete in an Olympic trial in a competition matching his gender identity. A few weeks later, I caught the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and saw Alaskan Megan Youngren toe the line and take her shot. Neither of them made Team USA, but it didn’t matter as much as the fact that they made the attempt.
I think of Grace McKenzie. A Bay Area rugger who saw World Rugby’s TERF-backed process to ban trans women and countered it with an online petition that that yielded over 18,000 signatures across the rugby world, including a host of elite players. The resistance to the plan, and the people driving it built coalitions from academics, to figures in the game to national governing bodies to speak out for trans people.
I think of two fellow Connecticut nutmeggers, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller. They competed for state championships one last time just before COVID changed everything. They gamely blazed a trail that someone will follow and find that path may be a bit easier. Both of them showed profiles in consistent grace throughout the ugliness that was thrown their way. An ugliness that extended all the way to the U.S. Secretary of Education.
I’m buoyed by Mitch Harrison. He competed in The Titan Games, and put every inch of his being in it and never backed down. “I don’t want any trans athlete to believe that we don’t belong there because we do,” he would say later, “and not just in sports but on every big stage we can think of.”
I’m inspired by those who are seeking their big stage. Perhaps I’ll be watching next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, coronavirus permitting, and see Chelsea Wolfe make a BMX bike defy physics. We may see Ness Murby in Canada red and white proudly return to the Paralympic stage and bring their full self into it, and hopefully a speedster from Italy named Valentina Petrillo will join them there. She will chase a Paralympic dream, and chase the legend of a hero as well.
Yet, “Every stage” isn’t just a pitch, a rink , a cockpit, a lane, or a lifting platform.
“What a trans person faces in the rest of life would never be offset by a gold medal.” — Chris Mosier
The stages are also classrooms, factory floors, offices, public accomodations, and opportunities to advance oneself and live any dream.
A Lindsay Hecox toeing some future starting line for Boise State, is about something beyond that race. A Bobby Jones determined to stop a would-be goal scorer isn’t just about making a save. When I put down my keyboard and pick up my running shoes to go out and race, its means more than just that race to me.
It's about what I call “that living thing”. At the gut level we just want to live as we are, love as we are, achieve as we are, go to work as we are, and we want to compete as we are.
Even through these harsh times many of us have stood steadfast, marched and fought for ourselves. We’re finding more allies are standing in the gap with us, from the streets to the locker rooms.
We have reasons to be afraid, but we also have reasons to be brave and bold. The Supreme Court decision in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens wound up being a stunning victory for our rights. I am confident that Hecox v. Little will yield a win as well. I am confident that we will face down the Alliance Defending Freedom in federal court in Connecticut, too.
To my trans people, especially all of us who just want to play: Keep showing up and keep playing. That youngster in the keepers jersey, Bobby Jones, said it best: “You have to stand up for what you believe in, or change is never going to happen.”
To our allies: Keep showing up and speaking out.
To our adversaries: I would suggest the wisdom of Rev. Desmond Tutu here. Tutu said often to the supporters of apartheid, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
Of course some of you who stand in opposition to trans rights won’t do that, so understand this: We aren’t going away. We will continue to show up. We will continue to be proud. We will continue to fight fiercely for our human rights. And participation in sport is one of those human rights.
When Ness Murby discussed their journey on the Outsports podcast Five Rings To Rule Them All, they said something that put this Trans Awareness Week in a sharp, bold focus for me.
“I have spent time in that place of not actualizing, and I want to say out loud that this is who I am because maybe someone else hears this, and recognizes that just because you don’t imagine it, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.” — Ness Murby