Gender Justice in Sports Cannot Succeed Without Trans Women and Girls.
It’s Transgender Day of Visibility! Trans women and girls belong at the very heart of the gender justice and women’s rights movement. As a women’s rights advocate, I am all in for fighting for trans and non-binary people to be able to thrive, exist in peace, and experience the rights we all should get to enjoy, including in sports.
Over the past few years, there has been a coordinated effort by state lawmakers to target and ban trans athletes. But now, things are escalating even further, with a bill in Congress that would create a nationwide blanket ban prohibiting transgender and intersex girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s school sports.
It’s called “The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act.” And let me be crystal clear here: That name is an absolute and dangerous lie.
First off, it erases the fact that trans women and girls are women and girls. Even further, this law does nothing to protect women and girls—really, it endangers them.
These types of sports bans subject women and girls to accusations of being “too masculine” or “too good” at their sport to be a “real” woman or girl. Some require women and girls to verify their gender through sex testing, like invasive and traumatic medical examinations. There’s actually a long, ugly history of this. And these tests especially harm women and girls who fall outside stereotypical notions of womanhood, who are intersex, or Black and brown, because they don’t conform to white standards of femininity.
To be clear, there are numerous examples of actual sex discrimination against girls and women in sports—including fewer athletic opportunities, second-class facilities and equipment, sexual abuse by coaches, doctors, and other students, pay inequities in sports for professional athletes, or insufficient implementation of Title IX. But sports bans are not addressing these real problems.
So why try to rob young trans people—who face increased risk for suicide because of the disproportionate discrimination, hostility, and stigma they face—of the benefits of playing sports? Benefits that not only foster acceptance and positive peer relationships, but improve academic outcomes, build leadership, and overall create a better educational and life experience. Benefits that can be life-saving.
Well, these extremists “justify” their hatred with another completely false narrative.
Transgender women and girls have been playing school sports for many years, and they have not been “dominating” their peers, as these bigots would have you believe. There is no evidence of it. Years of data proves this. Even the extremist lawmakers pushing for these sports bans can’t find examples of it. Yet they continue to lie and perpetuate hate.
The reality is that, like their peers, transgender girls and women sometimes lose at sports, and sometimes they win, which we celebrate. We celebrate trans athletes like Becky Pepper-Jackson, Andraya Yearwood, Ember Zelch, and so many others. Their wins are our wins.
But this notion that transgender girls have an overall competitive advantage in school sports is simply not true and ignores how athletic success is largely dependent on practice, hard work, self-discipline, and socioeconomic factors like access to good coaches, facilities, and money to pay for outside training.
Tellingly, these sports bans are driven by anti-trans lawmakers and national far-right groups, including a conservative Christian fundamentalist hate group, the Alliance Defending Freedom. These extremists are the same ones working to ban abortion, to limit contraception, and to deny us equal pay and affordable child care.
So, what’s clear is that all these attacks are really about control. They want to control our bodies. Control what it means to be a woman or a girl. How we look and dress. Whether we have children. How we raise them. All to force us, all of us, into rigid gender roles. And they’ve zeroed in on targeting transgender athletes in the name of women’s rights to perpetuate their hateful and dangerous agenda to erase trans people and really, to control us all.
I am forever in awe of the beautiful resiliency of the trans community, of the incredible trans people and advocates who constantly push back against this hatred with joy, hope, and love. Because I also know that these attacks—which keep getting worse—can be entirely demoralizing. However, I also think they show us something else, and something very important:
That these extremists are scared. They’re scared of us, and of you.
Because they know that being your true self, being your boundless, beautiful self, is the very definition of power.
Because it’s the one thing they can’t control. The one thing they can’t contain. To them, our completeness, our complexity, our defiance of gender roles and expectations, is absolutely terrifying.
So, today and every day, let’s make sure they stay scared.