Let Them Play, “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” Shouldn’t Restrict Transgender Athletes From Participating in Sports

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Growing up, sports were a huge part of my life. Many of the things I learned on athletic fields have served me well in life – lessons about teamwork, fair play, and setting and achieving goals. The most important might have been from playing against those who were stronger or better skilled — learning to handle loss built more character than winning ever did.

Plus, there are other tangible benefits to be gained from sports. Beyond improving my general health, my active youth helped me become more comfortable with my developing body. Being physically fit helped me have the energy and mental focus I needed to get things done off the field, too.

Some of my best memories are of the enormous fun I experienced playing games, whether participating in intramural sports, playing on recreational teams or competing in tournaments. I’ve made lifelong friends among my teammates and even my competitors.

So, when I tell you that everyone should have athletic opportunities, I know what I’m talking about. In fact, I believe we should be expanding rather than restricting access to sports.

The misnamed “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” currently in front of the Louisiana legislature doesn’t do anything to protect students from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity. 

Let me address some of the reasons that are given by supporters of this harmful legislation.

Senator Mizel would have you believe trans athletes are taking a spot away from someone else. The argument is there are only so many opportunities for girls and women to play at the top level or get scholarships so it is unfair to allow trans athletes to compete.

I’m going to start by pointing out that the defenders of this bill can’t even show an example of this ever happening in Louisiana. Their premise that trans athletes will outperform their peers is not supported by the evidence. It just isn’t true that everyone assigned male at birth is automatically bigger, faster and stronger than anyone assigned female at birth. Further, transgender participation hasn’t led to a surge in transgender girls and women winning national championships. Most trans athletes perform within expected ranges for their age and gender identity. It is highly unfortunate that the few transgender girls and women who have achieved sports success have faced backlash instead of celebrations of their victories.

We can celebrate girls’ sports and protect transgender youth from discrimination, making sure that all young people can access the lessons and opportunities that sports afford. The first step is making sure your representative votes against SB 156 when it comes to the floor of the House.

Another argument against trans youth participation comes from the horrible notion of gender policing women athletes who weren’t feminine enough to be ‘real women.’ This bill invites policing and bullying of student athletes who do not meet gender stereotypes, and could empower any person to force any student athlete to undergo invasive physical exams or hormone tests in order to “prove” their gender. 

As someone with short hair and small breasts and labeled a tomboy, I have felt the humiliation of being pulled from women’s restrooms because I didn’t fit someone’s judgement of my gender.

Try to imagine how traumatizing it is to be pulled aside because someone didn’t think you belonged on the field and demanded you show proof or submit to a physical genital examination? Do you realize how easy it would be for a competitor or opposing coach to make such an accusation to explain their loss? There is enough bad sportsmanship out there already without weaponizing sports against anyone who is gender non-conforming.

The most pernicious argument about trans participation is the one about how unfair it is for men to compete against women in sports. Sometimes added to this is the need for safe spaces in locker rooms and restrooms.

In actuality, trans students have more to fear from their peers when it comes to being bullied, harassed and sexually assaulted while trying to use the restroom that best matches their valid identity. Almost 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms for fear of confrontation, saying they have been harassed and assaulted.

Cisgender boys are not trying to sneak into girl’s sports to try and dominate the competition. As a point of fact, current Louisiana guidance from LHSSA on gender equity requires such athletes to undergo sex reassignment two years before competing!

Transgender kids, like other students, deserve the same opportunities to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and self-discipline through athletics, as well as building a sense of belonging with their peers. When transgender girls aren’t allowed to participate in girls’ sports—or transgender boys not allowed to play in boys’ sports—they miss out on this important childhood experience and all the lessons it teaches.

As a state, we will also miss out on the financial gains that come from hosting high level tournaments. In response to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB 2 legislation, the NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. It was the first time in US history that a professional sporting event was moved in response to anti-LGBT legislation. 

New Orleans is scheduled to host the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in 2022.  NCAA has already made the statement on transgender participation that “When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.”

Louisiana won’t be able to provide that environment if this bill passes. Please contact your district representative and let them know you oppose Senate Bill 156 and want them to vote against the measure. Find your Representative’s contact information here: https://legis.la.gov/legis/FindMyLegislators.aspx


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