Is Your State Trying to Ban Transgender Students From Sports? Here's Why That's Wrong

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Ellen Niz
·5 min read
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On Monday, Arkansas joined the list of about 20 states who are on the wrong side of progress by trying to ban transgender children from sports. Introduced by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Republican Sen. Missy Irvin, and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, the legislation would prohibit transgender athletes from playing on girls’ and women’s sports teams at schools, the Associated Press reports.

The Human Rights Campaign is currently tracking these bills in states from Montana to Mississippi and from Connecticut to North Dakota, with information on what you can do to help stop them from becoming discriminatory laws. (The only state so far to pass one of these bills has been Idaho, which quickly had the law suspended by a district court.)

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This flurry of transphobic legislation is a knee-jerk, unnecessary, and discriminatory reaction to President Joe Biden’s executive order preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Signed on his first day in office, this executive order calls for a broader application of last year’s Supreme Court Bostock v. Clayton County ruling, which mandated that LGBTQ people are protected from sex discrimination in the workplace, and calls for the Supreme Court ruling to apply to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in federally funded schools.

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“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Biden’s executive order reads. “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

Sounds totally reasonable to us, but apparently not to transphobic people.

“We don’t want common sense to be overshadowed by so-called political correctness, and this bill will ensure the integrity of girls and women in sports,” AG Rutledge said of her state’s proposed legislation at a news conference at the state capitol, though she acknowledged she isn’t aware of any instances in Arkansas of transgender athletes playing on school sports teams.

These proposed bills are, frankly, absurd. First, Biden’s executive order didn’t change anything. LGBTQIA people are already protected under federal law, and this executive order simply reiterates that and directs that those protections be enforced. Second, there is literally no evidence of any kind that protecting the rights of transgendered athletes to play on teams consistent with their gender identities does any harm to cis-gendered athletes. The “integrity of girls and women in sports” is not at risk.

As transgender rights activist Chase Strangio, a staff lawyer with the ACLU, recently expressed in an article on Medium, “Behind the past two years of anti-trans rhetoric and policy in the United States is the false claim that women and girls who are transgender are a threat to the integrity of women’s sports,” Strangio wrote. “Though they can point to only a handful of trans athletes who have had any success in sport over the past four decades, they claim that trans dominance in sport is ‘just around the corner.’ Notably, trans women have been competing in women’s events at the NCAA, the Olympics, and elite international competition without any dominance or even notable competitiveness. In fact, no trans woman athlete has even qualified for the Olympics let alone won a medal.”

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The truth is that these hateful laws would be far, far more harmful to transgendered kids than to female athletes. Not affirming trans and gender-expansive kids in who they are, or preventing them from living lives as full and free as anyone else only results in serious damage to their mental health, leading to devastating rates of suicide. According to a study of non-binary youth published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. That is a heartbreaking statistic.

“Relentless scrutiny of trans youth is hurting them deeply,” Strangio wrote on Medium. “They participate in sports because they love them and want to find a place to connect, feel joy and experience embodiment. … No one is protected when trans youth are demonized, when they are kicked off the sports teams they love and their health care is criminalized. There is no trans takeover of sports waiting around the corner, but how many young people will cry out, ‘I have no happiness left in me’ while we perpetuate this false claim?

We as parents and as humans must do better to protect, nurture and encourage all kids. It shouldn’t matter what gender they identity with, or what pronoun they use. All children deserve the opportunity to exist exactly as they are, to learn at school and play on sports teams, and do whatever nourishes their hearts and souls. This is what we should be teaching our children, that accepting other people is more important than protecting some false idea that letting trans kids play sports will mean our team wins less trophies. When we are inclusive, we all win something much bigger.

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