* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.U.S. Republicans claim trans girls will destroy girls' sports, despite states with inclusive policies experiencing no such issues
Sasha Buchert is a senior attorney and Carl Charles a staff attorney at Lambda Legal
For years, opponents of transgender equality have issued dire warnings about the non-existent dangers of trans people using public restrooms. They frantically claimed that if trans people are protected from the documented violence and harassment they face in nearly every facet of life, that non-trans people will pretend to be trans for improper purposes, or that the mere presence of trans women using the restroom somehow poses an existential threat to the safety and privacy of women and girls.
Fortunately, the baseless and mean-spirited bathroom panic stratagem failed spectacularly but, in its wake, a new version of this fear-mongering tactic has arisen: the talking point that trans girls threaten women’s sports so they should be banned from participation in school sports.
This groundless talking point has been embraced tightly by the far right and ratcheted up for full effect. According to some House Republicans, trans athletes will “destroy” women’s sports. During the recent floor debate on the Equality Act, Republicans obsessively ranted about the threats that trans youth pose to women’s sports, spending almost 100% of their time to target 0.6% of the population (many of whom have zero interest in sports).
This attempt to pit trans girls against non-trans girls in the name of protecting women’s rights is deeply hypocritical. These same policymakers are staunch opponents of women’s rights when it comes to every other issue, including the gender pay gap, reproductive rights, paid family leave, government support for childcare, and the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment ensuring equal rights for everyone, just to name a few.
The facts show that trans youth are already protected against discrimination in education in many parts of the country. The facts also show they have been playing sports on teams consistent with their gender identity without “destroying” or harming women’s sports. In fact, as a recent report from the Center for American Progress entitled “Fair Play: The Importance of Sports Participation for Transgender Youth documents, “[t]here is no evidence to support the claim that allowing transgender athletes to participate will reduce or harm participation in girls’ sports.”
Some states, such as Washington State, have had inclusive policies for more than a decade without incident and there are now over 60,000 transgender students who are eligible to compete in those states.
Anti-transgender talking points choose to ignore the thousands and thousands of athletic events where trans youth have participated and failed to win anything except the benefits that all children deserve from athletic participation, in favor of repeatedly focusing on the rare one or two competitions where a trans athlete was successful. This sends the terrible message that trans kids can compete only so long as they lose.
What’s really at risk here is the loss of participation. Trans youth want the opportunity to play sports for the same reason all kids do: they want to play. They want to bond with their peers and be a part of a team where they feel like they belong and are accepted for who they are. Excluding them from participation is stigmatizing and harmful. Kids learn a myriad of important life lessons in sports: leadership skills, confidence, self-respect, discipline and what it means to be part of a team.
Denying them the opportunity to play harms their emotional and physical and social well-being and robs them of their connection to the larger school community and to their community at large.
Athletics is a critical part of the school experience for many students and participation offers them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility, leadership and build a sense of connectedness.
We can celebrate women’s sports and protect trans youth from discrimination at the same time. As a country, we know that discrimination is wrong and almost everyone believes youth should have the same opportunities to succeed in life – and that should include transgender youth.