Bigoted lawmakers have been trying to pull Kris Wilka from the gridiron since he put on his first chin strap. And now, the South Dakota seventh-grader is going public with his fight.

In an interview with TV station KOTA, Wilka says playing football saved his life. “It is everything to me,” he said. “I mean, if football didn’t exist, I don’t think I would be here, honestly, because it has saved my life. I will not lie. It has.”

Wilka says he knew his true gender identity from the moment he could “process any thought.” When he told his teammates, he was embraced with open arms.

“They were like, ‘Dude, that’s so cool. That’s amazing,’” Wilka said. “I was like, ‘Woo, that was unexpected.’

Unfortunately, Wilka has not received the same support from his elected representatives, or some school administrators. He couldn’t play football at his previous school, because officials feared his presence would confuse other players.

In other words, they were using children as a shield for their own transphobia.

Wilka is allowed to play at his new school, and thanks to the recent defeat of an anti-trans bill in the South Dakota House, it looks like he’ll be able to keep his shoulder pads — at least for now. A bill seeking to prohibit trans kids from playing on a team that matches their gender identity failed to gain a majority last week, preventing it from being sent to the senate.

It’s the fourth anti-trans bill South Dakota lawmakers have rejected this session. There at least 131 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country, and about half of them would prohibit transgender boys and girls from playing sports, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Senate approved legislation that would bar transgender girls from playing women’s sports at public schools. The bill will now head to the Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk for his signature.

He would be wise to heed Wilka’s words, along with anybody else who wants to stop trans boys and girls from playing sports.

“Respect the person next to you, and the person behind you,” Wilka said. “Let them live their life the way they want to. Make them feel accepted, because that’s all anyone ever wants.”