Right now, politicians across the country are pushing dozens of state bills that seek to ban transgender kids, like my own daughter Stella, from participating in sports. When I was a kid, I never imagined that grownups might try to stop me from playing games with my friends. Why would they? Sports should be for everyone, because they benefit everyone. Especially for kids, sports help us make friends, stay active and feel good about ourselves and our bodies.
I started playing sports very young, and by the time I was 11 years old I was bicycling seriously. I gained a new sense of freedom, independence and well-being that I never had before. Through the cycling community, I was connected with people who had the same passion that I did, and who made me feel like I belonged. I fell in love with cycling, and these days, when I’m not busy running my own bike shop, I’m training and joining races.
When I first taught Stella how to ride a bike, I hoped that she might share in those joyful experiences and cycle in races with me. Turns out, she never really cared about riding faster than anyone else or even getting off of training wheels. She just wanted to have fun and go on a bike ride around the block with her dad.
Stella isn’t competitive about sports. She’s not a superstar athlete or even especially coordinated compared with other kids her age. But ever since learning to ride a bike, she continues to eagerly try new things. So far, she has tried out rock climbing, swimming, badminton, bowling and the list goes on.
These athletic pursuits don’t just help her make friends; getting out her energy through sports helps her focus more clearly in school so she can get good grades, and even helps her sleep better at night. Above all, sports help her believe that she’s part of a team bigger than herself, a community where she can be a leader.
That confidence shines through on and off the playing field. This year, Stella became the first transgender teen to testify before the U.S. Senate. She conquered her nerves and stood bravely before adult politicians to urge them to pass the Equality Act, which would protect transgender and LGBQ+ people against many forms of discrimination.
She made these points in front of many of the same anti-transgender politicians who are trying to exclude her and other transgender kids from sports, by manufacturing a crisis where there is none. These extremists don’t represent the values of the majority of Americans, who believe in equal rights for LGBTQ+ people. As athletic institutions are catching up to society and becoming more inclusive over time, a handful of out-of-touch lawmakers are trying to reverse our progress.
Even in the cycling world, a community with past controversies of exclusion, athletes have taken strides to make sure everyone can experience the joy and benefits of the sport. Earlier this year, I took part in a race that took care to welcome and affirm transgender and nonbinary participants, so that all who want to ride could focus on the actual sport instead of worrying about being treated differently or excluded from the event.
My daughter deserves that same freedom to participate free from judgment or discrimination. She needs to know that she’ll have the same rights and protections as everyone else, regardless of where she might go to college or which other states she may visit.
It’s time for our lawmakers to stop pedaling backward. They should put an end to pointless anti-transgender sports bans and focus on passing nondiscrimination protections, like those in the Equality Act, to provide consistent protections for transgender people who simply want to live their happiest and healthiest lives.
Sports molded my life growing up; I’m sure many of you can say the same. All children deserve those opportunities to explore their passions, make new friends and feel good about themselves physically and mentally – without exception.
Dmitri Keating is a competitive cyclist and the father of Stella Keating, a youth advocate with GenderCool and the first transgender teen to testify before the U.S. Senate.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Transgender rights: My daughter deserves to play sports without bigotry