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  • Laura Tierney

Banning Trans Student-Athletes Won't "Save Women's Sports"

In the past few years, a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been passed in the House of Representatives and state legislatures.[1] As of February 2024, twenty-five states have laws or regulations which ban “transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.”[2] With deceiving names like the “Save Women’s Sports Act”[3] and the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023,”[4] these laws discriminate against trans student-athletes, purportedly in the name of fairness and women’s empowerment.[5] The stark reality is that these bills do nothing to cultivate fairness and safety for student-athletes and do not further the interests of women and girls in sports. Instead, these laws politicize the lives of children to stoke fear, intolerance, and discrimination, and deny all students the benefits of equal participation in sports.[6]

There is currently no evidence to support the claim that the participation of transgender athletes in sports has any measurable impact on the success of cisgender athletes.[7] On the contrary, a 2021 study conducted in Connecticut and California, where trans youth have been permitted to play on teams consistent with their gender identities since 2013 and 2014 respectively, found that when transgender youth are allowed to play, the result is that more women and girls participate in athletics.[8]

            The benefits of participating in youth sports are diverse and wide-ranging: along with the physiological benefits of exercise, student-athletes may be at lower risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation,[9] as well as tobacco and illegal drug use.[10] Student-athletes report higher self-esteem and confidence as well as greater feelings of community and connectedness.[11] These benefits would be particularly valuable to transgender youth, an exceptionally at-risk population.[12]

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 77 percent of those who were out or perceived as trans in grades K-12 reported negative experiences such as verbal or physical harassment, and physical or sexual assault in school.[13] A different study made similarly concerning findings: 56 percent of transgender youth surveyed reported a previous suicide attempt, and 86 percent reported high rates of suicidal ideation in the past 6 months.[14] The same survey found that feelings of not belonging at school were significantly related to higher rates of suicidality.[15] While no one would argue that participation in youth sports is a cure-all for the issues that plague transgender youth, their targeted exclusion in the face of their vulnerability seems especially callous and dangerous.

If lawmakers want to improve the lives of women and girl athletes, they can support legislation that addresses the many, very real issues facing women’s sports today, including “mass instances of sexual and physical assault [against women and girl athletes], under-representation of women in media positions, [and] inequitable media coverage.”[16] But the truth is that none of the laws that claim to “Save Women’s Sports” target any of the actual problems that keep women and girl athletes from succeeding in sport.[17] Instead, lawmakers choose to stoke anti-trans sentiment to endanger vulnerable children and further their own hateful political agendas.

 


[1] MacIntosh Ross & Matthew Hodler, U.S. Anti-Trans Laws Won’t “Save Women’s Sports,” Tʜᴇ Cᴏɴᴠᴇʀsᴀᴛɪᴏɴ (July 4, 2022 9:53 AM EDT) https://theconversation.com/u-s-anti-trans-laws-wont-save-womens-sports-185267; Annie Karni, House Passes Bill to Bar Transgender Athletes from Female Sports Teams, N.Y. Tɪᴍᴇs (Apr. 20, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/20/us/politics/transgender-athlete-ban-bill.html.

[2] Equality Maps: Bans on Transgender Youth Participation in Sports, Mᴏᴠᴇᴍᴇɴᴛ Aᴅᴠᴀɴᴄᴇᴍᴇɴᴛ Pʀᴏᴊᴇᴄᴛ, https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/youth/sports_participation_bans (last accessed Feb. 5, 2024).

[3] Oᴋʟᴀ. Sᴛᴀᴛ. tit. 70 § 27-106 (2022).

[4] H.R. 734, 118th Cong. (2023).

[5] Joanna Hoffman, Stop Excluding Trans Girls in the Name of “Protecting Women’s Sports,” SELF (Aug. 24. 2023) https://www.self.com/story/advocating-for-trans-girls-sports.

[6] Shoshana K. Goldberg, Fair Play: The Importance of Sports Participation for Transgender Youth, Aᴍ. Pʀᴏɢʀᴇss (Feb. 8, 2021) https://www.americanprogress.org/article/fair-play/.

[7] Id.  

[8] Id.  

[9] Lindsay A. Babiss & James E. Gangwisch, Sports Participation as a Protective Factor Against Depression and Suicidal Ideation in Adolescents as Mediated by Self-Esteem and Social Support, 30 J. Dᴇᴠ. Bᴇʜᴀᴠ. Pᴇᴅɪᴀᴛʀɪᴄ 376 (2009).

[10] Matthew Kwan, Sarah Bobko, Guy Faulkner, Peter Donnelly & John Cairney, Sport Participation and Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies, 39 Aᴅᴅɪᴄᴛɪᴠᴇ Bᴇʜᴀᴠs. 497, 498 (2014).

[11] Elizabeth Daniels & Campbell Leaper, A Longitudinal Investigation of Sport Participation, Peer Acceptance, and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls and Boys, 55 Sᴇx Rᴏʟᴇs 875, 878 (2006).

[12] Goldberg, supra note 6.

[13] Sᴀɴᴅʏ E. Jᴀᴍᴇs, Jᴏᴅʏ L. Hᴇʀᴍᴀɴ, Sᴜsᴀɴ Rᴀɴᴋɪɴ, Mᴀʀᴀ Kᴇɪsʟɪɴɢ, Lɪsᴀ Mᴏᴛᴛᴇᴛ, & Mᴀ’ᴀʏᴀɴ Aɴᴀғɪ, Tʜᴇ Rᴇᴘᴏʀᴛ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ 2015 U.S. Tʀᴀɴsɢᴇɴᴅᴇʀ Sᴜʀᴠᴇʏ 11 (2016).

[14] Ashley Austin, Shelley L. Craig, Sandra D’Souza & Lauren B. McInroy, Suicidality Among Transgender Youth: Elucidating the Role of Interpersonal Risk Factors, 37 J. Iɴᴛᴇʀᴘᴇʀsᴏɴᴀʟ Vɪᴏʟᴇɴᴄᴇ NP2696, NP2706 (2020).

[15] Id. at NP2708.

[16] Ross & Hodler, supra note 1.

[17] Id.

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