As openly LGBTQ athletes, Alana Bojar and Aliya Schenck know about the power of sports to build self-affirmation and bring people together. The two runners from Washington University in St. Louis find solace on the track, and couldn’t imagine college life without competing.
It enrages them that lawmakers across the country are trying to take that right away from trans boys and girls. They’re demanding the NCAA stand up for what’s right.
Last week, Schenck and Bojar spearheaded a letter to the NCAA challenging the organization to pull championship events from states engaged in anti-trans legislation. As of press time, more than 600 college athletes have signed on — ranging from Division 1 standouts to Division 3 walk-ons.
“As an athlete, I know how important sports are to my life,” Schenck told Outsports. “And so to know that that could be taken away from kids just because they’re being who they are is just really upsetting to me.”
This is not Schenck and Bojar’s first push for trans rights. The upperclassmen — Schenck is a junior and Bojar is finishing up her senior year — created their own Athlete Ally chapter at Washington University last year. Shortly thereafter, Athlete Ally asked if they would participate in a campaign pushing the NCAA to pull events from Idaho, in response to the state’s now-halted trans sports ban. A federal judge blocked the law with an injunction ruling last summer.
In one week, Schenck and Bojar garnered roughly 500 signatures from college athletes, but the NCAA failed to act. While the NCAA issued statements admonishing Idaho’s efforts, it stopped short of pulling March Madness games from Boise (the hallmark tournament will be exclusively held in Indiana this year due to Covid-19).
Already this year, 20 states are considering restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender kids. Mississippi’s governor recently signed a law that will bar trans athletes from playing girl’s or women’s sports, and South Dakota’s governor promises to sign similar legislation in her state.
Bojar thinks the restrictions are odious.
“I know that like being a queer athlete, being on a team that affirms your identity is so important,” she said. “Essentially, I’ve spent every afternoon since seventh grade on the track, having those people say, ‘It’s okay to be who you are. It’s okay to be who you are and do something that you love.’ To know that trans athletes don’t have that, it’s just infuriating.”
Schenck and Bojar’s letter addresses NCAA President Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors, rebuking their silence “in the face of hateful legislation in states that are slated to host championships.” With the help of Athlete Ally, they recruited athletes from nearly 85 schools, including Duke, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Villanova and Maryland. The signatories play football, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, cross-country, gymnastics, rowing and other NCAA sports.
“These bills are targeting kids,” Schenck said. “They’re not in for sponsorships, they’re in it because they love it and they want to have fun with their friends.”
Faced with mounting pressure, the NCAA did respond to the athletes’ latest letter, but stopped short of endorsing boycotts of states flirting with trans discrimination. In recent years, we’ve seen sports leagues and businesses stand together against anti-LGBTQ ordinances, perhaps most notably in Indiana, where the campaign caused then-Governor Mike Pence to reverse some of its measures.
Schenck and Bojar are currently crafting a response to the NCAA, demanding more than lip service about the latest push to curtail trans rights. In this case, actions speak louder than words.
“As student-athletes, we want to make sure that our teammates are going to be supported and protected no matter where we go to compete,” Schenck said. “Teams are families. Your teammates are your family. And so you have a responsibility as a part of that family to protect each other and support each other.
“We know that the NCAA does have power to impact what the standard is. And we’re just trying to do our part to be allies to the trans community, to trans athletes, and make sure that we’re doing what we can.”