There is a war being waged against transgender student-athletes in the U.S. Across the country, conservative state legislators are trying to prevent trans children from competing in sports according to their gender identity. They say their discriminatory legislation is meant to preserve the competitive integrity of youth and high school athletics. But the truth is, their proposals single out vulnerable groups of children, prohibiting them embracing their identities on the field, court and ice.
On seemingly a weekly basis, state lawmakers unveil new anti-trans proposals. This week, bills that would ban transgender athletes from playing on teams aligned with their gender identities were formally proposed in Arizona and Iowa, and similar legislation is expected to be introduced in Kansas.
At least 10 states are now attempting to legalize discrimination against transgender student-athletes, with Arizona and Iowa officially joining the shameful group this week.
When defending these draconian measures, most legislators and governors explicitly mention female sports, and how allowing transgender girls to compete against cisgender girls creates an unfair competitive advantage. That is the argument representatives of the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance of Defending Freedom spouted Wednesday in Connecticut, where they announced their lawsuit against the Connecticut Association of Schools, which has a longstanding transgender-inclusive policy. The ADF is suing the organization on behalf of three cisgender girls who say they were beaten in high school track and field events by two trans athletes of color, high school seniors Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller.
The ACLU responded to the lawsuit in defense of Yearwood and Miller. “Today’s complaint filed in Connecticut targeting the inclusion of transgender girls in girls’ athletics and specifically naming Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood is a dangerous distortion of both law and science in the service of excluding trans youth from public life,” said attorney Chase Strangio of the ACLU in a statement emailed to Outsports. “The purpose of high school athletics is to support inclusion, build social connection and teamwork, and help all students thrive and grow. Efforts to undermine Title IX by claiming it doesn’t apply to a subset of girls will ultimately hurt all students and compromise the work of ending the long legacy of sex discrimination in sports.”
As Outsports contributor Karleigh Webb reported last year, two of the three cisgender female athletes in the Connecticut lawsuit — Chelsea Mitchell and Alanna Smith — actually won competitions against trans athletes, according to state competition websites. There is also no evidence transgender athletes possess competitive advantages over their cisgender peers. In fact, as LGBTQ sports advocate Helen Carroll told the Wired, there are as many as 200 transgender athletes competing in NCAA sports — and most of them haven’t caused any controversy.
This is not about the sanctity of athletic competition. These proposals directly target the transgender community. According to the Movement Advancement Project, 26 states are deemed “low equality” or “negative equality” states, meaning they offer few protections to LGBTQ people. While incredible progress has been made over the last decade, there’s still a lot of work to be accomplished.
When it comes to gender identity laws, the results are even more harrowing. A total of 18 states — and three territories — score in the “negative” range on the equality scale, compared to the 12 states that score in the “negative” range on overall LGBTQ policy. An infographic from MAP shows the stark regional divide when it comes to gender identity protection.
When states do pass legislation against trans student-athletes, the consequences can be far-reaching. In Arizona, current laws mandate transgender students must receive approval from the Arizona Interscholastic Association to compete in a sport that matches their gender identity. The unwieldy bureaucratic process can create complications, such as when one transgender middle school student was misplaced on the boys’ track roster for the first couple of meets. The girl’s father told the Phoenix New Times his daughter was shellshocked by the experience, and quit playing sports for the rest of middle school.
“If this bill goes through, I’m just not gonna play sports,” the girl said, via the New Times. “I played on the boys team once, and that already made me feel so uncomfortable and embarrassed.”
Transgender triathlete Chris Mosier, who recently made history as the first trans man to compete in the men’s Olympic trials, keeps a log of high school athletic policies on his website dedicated to trans athletes. According to the data, eight states already feature policies that are discriminatory towards trans youth who want to participate in sports.
The troubling phenomenon of persistent LGBTQ discrimination isn’t only happening on athletic fields in select states. The Supreme Court is currently deciding three LGBTQ rights cases that could destroy sex discrimination protections at the federal level.
The fight against progress is ongoing, and trans student-athletes are in the direct crossfire. Their self-esteem and well-being are being attacked for cheap political gain. Advocacy is the best antidote to hate.