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Trans athletes are not cheap political piñatas

Bereft of ideas, Republicans are resorting to an old scare tactic: demonizing LGBTQ people.

Demonstrator waving the Trans flag attends a protest where...
Republicans across the country are using transgender rights as a political pawn.
Photo by Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

There are a multitude of crises facing America right now: the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, economic devastation, fights for racial and social justice. And yet, Republicans around the country are targeting transgender athletes, as if their desire to play sports is the greatest threat of our time.

How insulting. Bereft of ideas, Republicans are once again trying to tee up the LGBTQ community as a cheap political piñata. It’s failed in the past, and will fail again. People can see through this gross distraction.

A good comparison to the intensifying war against trans athletes is the push to outlaw same-sex marriage that swept across the nation in the mid-aughts. As The Washington Post points out, George W. Bush ran for reelection in 2004 alongside proposed constitutional amendments in about a dozen states aimed at preventing gay people from getting married. While Bush secured a second term, the amendments did little to sway swing voters, even though they passed in 11 conservative states.

Just seven years later, a majority of Americans said they support same-sex marriage for the first time. Nowadays, nearly half of Republicans support gay marriage, according to Gallup.

Public sentiment has shifted dramatically on LGBTQ rights, and while transphobia is prevalent within State Houses and Congress, a plurality of Americans recognize the bigotry that transgender people face. A January PRRI poll found almost 75 percent of Americans think the transgender community faces more discrimination than any other group, including more than 50 percent of Republicans and white evangelicals.

To illustrate the disconnect between opportunistic politicians and actual people on trans rights, look no further than South Dakota. On Monday, the state senate passed legislation that would bar transgender women from competing on teams in accordance with their gender identity, and Gov. Kristi Noem said she is “excited to sign this bill very soon.” As an added gut-punch, the governor added the discriminatory legislation was a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Meanwhile, last week we highlighted the story of a trans seventh-grader in South Dakota who’s played football for five years, and enjoyed support from his teammates every step of the way. When he came out, he was embraced with open arms.

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

With Joe Biden reversing Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and the recent passage of the Equality Act, Republicans are desperately trying to use trans rights as their next big wedge issue. The ACLU finds there are more legislative proposals aimed at trans people than in the previous three years, and most of them seek to ban trans kids from athletics.

Last week, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves pledged to sign a bill prohibiting trans athletes from playing school sports. He said he was doing it to “protect young girls,” even though there’s no evidence that trans girls enjoy significant athletic advantages over their cisgender peers.

In his first post-presidency speech at CPAC, Trump, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women, also declared to be protecting women’s sports. But we all know that’s a bunch of crap.

Do you think any of these people could name three WNBA players?

Trans kids are not pawns. They are people, and every single day, they are changing hearts and minds. Last year, we saw long distance runner Lindsay Hecox successfully challenge Idaho’s trans sports ban, with a federal judge ordering an injunction against the law. This past fall, Hecox tried out for the cross country team at Boise State.

She just wants a chance to compete, like everybody else. And with everything going on, that’s what Republicans want to stop? Lindsay Hecox trying out for her college cross country team?

They must think we’re all stupid. The cruelty is enraging.