The continuous legislative barrage against transgender Americans has swelled to 33 states and more than 120 pieces of legislation. The proposed laws range from criminalizing affirming health care for trans youth to bans on transgender girls and women from participating in sports.
Six states — Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi — have passed trans student-athlete bans. More states are continuing to push this process and a few, such as Kansas, have seen such efforts mercifully die.
This is the backdrop for an opinion piece in USA Today Saturday by Chelsea Mitchell. She is a plaintiff in the much-discussed, recently dismissed, and soon-to-be-appealed lawsuit against the Connecticut Association of Schools and Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference over policies that allows transgender student-athletes to participate in sports in line with their gender.
Mitchell, an 11-time state champion in Connecticut high school track and the Hartford Courant’s girls high school athlete of the year in 2019, began the piece recounting her state indoor championship 55-meter win last February.
While telling her story, she wrote this:
I won that race, and I’m grateful. But time after time, I have lost. I’ve lost four women’s state championship titles, two all-New England awards, and numerous other spots on the podium to male runners. I was bumped to third place in the 55-meter dash in 2019, behind two male runners. ... That’s a devastating experience. It tells me that I’m not good enough; that my body isn’t good enough; and that no matter how hard I work, I am unlikely to succeed, because I’m a woman.
In a fashion befitting the sponsor of the lawsuit — the Alliance Defending Freedom — Mitchell proceeded to mix in the “transphobe’s playbook” I described in a previous Outsports article. In the race Mitchell cited, she lost to two other high school girls, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood. Both Miller and Yearwood are transgender. Mitchell is cisgender. Mitchell beat both of them to win the state title at 55 meters in 2020.
Throughout the opinion piece she referred to transgender girls and women as “males,” “a male body,” “male runners” and “biological males.” Weaponized misgendering is the first play in the playbook: Immediately sell the point that transgender women are not women.
In every filing by the ADF on this particular case, they engaged in consistent misgendering. They went as far as to try to have the judge in the lawsuit removed because he would not allow the ADF’s lawyers to misgender Miller and Yearwood in court.
Also consider this sentence in Mitchell’s piece: “I am unlikely to succeed, because I’m a woman.” That’s the underlying, and comically false, idea that anti-trans groups also sell: The concept that cisgender women are too inept to compete successfully in sport.
From there, it was a mix of the rest of the playbook, especially the omissions of key facts, such as noting “opportunities lost” because of transgender girls in field.
Of course Mitchell did not mention that she was the only one of the three girls discussed here to get an athletic scholarship. Mitchell received a track scholarship to William and Mary and she is a sprinter/long jumper on the school’s track team. Neither Yearwood nor Miller is competing at the collegiate level.
Such opinion pieces are nothing new for clients of the ADF’s actions in such cases. The mother of plaintiff Selina Soule wrote an opinion piece for USA Today last year that was quite similar to this piece by Mitchell.
Madison Kenyon, the Idaho State track athlete brought in as part of the ADF’s defense of Idaho’s trans student-athlete ban HB500, wrote a opinion piece in The Idaho Statesman last June. Put her article next to Mitchell’s, and you’ll notice definitive similarities in words, style, tone and consistent misgendering.
There are some people across the interwebs and the twittersphere who feel the ADF has a sizeable hand in these compositions. The organization has been aggressive in its public-relations effort to sell an anti-trans agenda. The group’s lawyers have made a lot of TV news hustling with clients, whether the venue is Fox News, which often promotes anti-trans perspectives, or more neutral outlets.
Connecticut lawsuit plaintiff Alanna Smith was interviewed for a feature on the issue on ABC’s “Nightline” on May 11. The Alliance’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, was sitting with her in the interview.
The ADF has the right to sell its viewpoint, as toxic and transphobic as it is.
Journalists like myself have an obligation to question, report and cover such things, as they harm so many trans youth and adults.
These discriminatory screeds masquerading as opinion pieces have no business in outlets that pride themselves on objective, fact-based news. I say this for two reasons. One is the glaring omission of the facts on the issue by the ADF and similar organizations. The other is the willful dehumanization of trans people in which the ADF consistently engages.
For a glaring example, consider this passage in Kenyon’s opinion piece last summer. Similar language was in play in Mitchell’s USA Today writing as well:
I take pride in earning my placements fairly and squarely. When it came to the indoor track conference championships, the biological male athlete snagged the gold medal and bumped my teammate into fourth place and off the podium.
The athlete who won the Big Sky Conference title in the mile at their indoor championship in 2020 — June Eastwood of the University of Montana — is a transgender woman and by NCAA regulations was fully eligible to compete. The “fairly and squarely” trope here is an insinuation that no editor or reporter should ever let slide. In many pieces on these issues, basic facts in regards to regulations are often not mentioned or glossed over.
The second point is the term “biological male” and any other variant that tries to sell the idea that trans women aren’t women. Willful, weaponized misgendering is hate speech. To demean trans people by misgendering us is equal in my eyes to having White supremacists referring to Black folks like me as the n-word.
Sound journalism sheds light on people and issues. Publishing and printing opinion pieces attacking already vulnerable communities in an ugly manner is a cruel surrender to darkness.