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  • Kids playing soccer.

Viewpoint: Protect Trans Kids in Sports

By |2021-03-23T09:35:40-04:00March 23rd, 2021|Opinions, Viewpoints|

They are at it again. After years of focusing on restrooms and locker rooms as an entry point for excluding trans people from public life, opponents of LGBTQ+ equality lately have shifted strategy to focus on excluding trans people, particularly students, from participating in athletics consistent with their gender identity.

These arguments rest on the assumption that trans girls and women are not real girls or women, and that they have an unfair advantage over cisgender girls and women. These arguments are a blatant attempt to pit cisgender women against transgender women and to demonize trans-inclusive policies.

In 2020, we saw 20 of these bills filed nationwide, including Idaho’s bill that passed and became law. Thankfully, it has been preliminarily enjoined by a federal district court in Hecox v. Little, which is currently on appeal at the 9th Circuit.

In mid-March Michigan Sen. Lana Theis, joined by 12 fellow Senate Republicans, introduced Senate Bill 218 that would bar transgender students from being able to participate in school sports in accordance with their gender identity. This bill aims to further marginalize transgender youth, who already face numerous challenges for acceptance as their authentic selves in school, and who are often disproportionately subject to bullying and harassment.

Having the opportunity to participate in sports results in positive outcomes for students — better grades, greater homework completion, higher educational and occupational aspirations, and improved self-esteem. Trans students participate in sports for the same reasons other young people do: to challenge themselves, improve fitness and be part of a team. Excluding trans students from participation just deprives them of opportunities available to their peers and sends the message they are not worthy of a full life.

Despite the fact that trans people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender at all levels for years, we simply have not seen any dominance by trans athletes at any level of competition. Athletic success is based on many disparate factors that vary from sport to sport, and being transgender does not give girls who are trans an inherent advantage over girls who are not. The claimed rationale for SB 218 is a discriminatory fallacy.

Trans people have been participating in sports and other single-sex activities consistent with their gender for years. For most trans people, this is the only feasible way to participate in sports at all. Because trans women and girls are women and girls, and trans men and boys are men and boys, nothing about trans participation undermines single-sex sports activities.

Furthermore, laws that single out transgender students for discriminatory treatment have been found by courts to violate Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, as well as the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Furthermore, President Biden made it clear, in his Jan. 20, 2021 executive rrder regarding LGBTQ+ rights, that “[c]hildren should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room or school sports.”

Transgender students participating in school sports pose no threat to the right of other students. Sen. Theis and her colleagues have manufactured a problem that does not exist in order to justify discrimination against trans youth while hoping to score some cheap political points. We won’t let this happen.

Contact your Michigan senator and tell them to vote no against SB 218 and to let transgender kids play.

About the Author:

Jay Kaplan is the Nancy Katz & Margo Dichtelmiller LGBTQ+ Rights Project staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan.
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