Though Republicans have progressively taken on the anti-trans rallying cry by way of defending the integrity of [cisgender] girls’ and womens’ sports, more than 500 college athletes are making it clear that transphobic GOP lawmakers don’t speak on their behalf. Almost 550 college athletes signed a letter to the NCAA board of governors requesting that the organization flatly refuse to arrange championship games in states with bans against transgender students participating in sports, as reported by Sports Illustrated. For example, the anti-trans bill Republican Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi signed into law on Thursday morning.
The letter opens by expressing that the signed athletes are “extremely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of action taken by the NCAA to recognize the dangers of hosting events in states that create a hostile environment for student-athletes” and goes on to accuse the NCAA of being “silent in the face of hateful legislation in states that are slated to host championships, even though those states are close to passing anti-transgender legislation." Whew. Let’s break down the goal behind the letter, as well as the bigger picture issue that has transgender folks—and their allies—seriously worried across the country in this new wave of anti-trans hysteria.
What do letter signers ultimately want? As the letter states, for athletes to feel “safe and supported” no matter where they travel. The letter notes that “it is impossible for female athletes to feel safe and supported in environments where their personal identity and integrity is questioned,” which, frankly, sums up a very fair point in the whole conversation that is often left out. All women—including transgender women—deserve to feel safe without being treated like a suspect. That should be a baseline expectation in any situation, and especially so when you’re working and representing your school and community with excellence and pride.
Aaliyah Schenck and Alana Bojar, both runners from the Washington University in St. Louis, were behind the letter. The two worked with the nonprofit organization Athlete Ally, which advocates on behalf of LGBTQ+ athletes.
In the end, students from more than 80 schools signed the letter. Athletic teams also varied, ranging from gymnastics to rowing to soccer and more. It’s also worth noting that while a number of GOP lawmakers have said they’ve heard from coaches or parents worried about cisgender girls competing with trans girls (and thus supposedly the “need” for this discriminatory legislation), lawmakers are often unable to cite any specific, local examples of this issue being a real concern in practice. Republican state Sen. Angela Hill of Mississippi is one such example.
The NCAA gave a statement to the Associated Press, including: “The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport. The Association's transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion. The NCAA believes diversity and inclusion improve the learning environment and it encourages its member colleges and universities to support the well-being of all student-athletes."
So, what’s the deal with these bills? Most of them would require transgender girls and teenagers in public schools to undergo an invasive physical exam by a physician to try and “prove” that they are a [cisgender] girl in order to compete on a sports team. This exam would often look at chromosomes, for example, as well as internal reproductive organs. Sometimes these bills extend all the way from kindergarten through university. These bills also sometimes apply to private schools that compete with public teams. Depending on the interpretation of the bill’s language, this could also, of course, apply to cisgender people who are “suspected” of being transgender or gender nonconforming, as well.
So, no matter what your name was, how you presented in school, or simply what you declared your sex or gender identity to be, these bills would reduce people down to the chromosome level, which ultimately isolates and excludes transgender girls and nonbinary folks. And remember that transgender kids and teenagers also report disproportionately high levels of bullying, harassment, and mental health struggles compared to their cisgender peers. Like every other young person (or, a person of any age), transgender youth just want to feel included, involved, and accepted. Sports is one popular way to do that, and it’s simply cruel and unjust to discriminate against anyone, much less such a marginalized and vulnerable community to begin with.
As a related, but technically separate, hit, some GOP lawmakers are pushing to make it harder (if not impossible) for transgender folks to change the sex listed on their birth certificate. Others are pushing to make it a crime for physicians to provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth. And who can forget when a Republican legislator out of Arizona compared nonbinary folks to chickens (yes, really).