Conservatives are taking a running leap into transphobia when it comes to trying to bar trans folks from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Many, many Republicans have introduced anti-trans legislation at the state level aiming to bar student-athletes from competing in sports—most of these bills specifically target trans girls, though some also include trans boys. Either way, it’s discriminatory, exclusionary, and unnecessary.
Some conservatives are happy to take on big names. Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, for example, is trying to get herself a Senate seat by attacking collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas. Hartzler, a super-conservative Christian Republican who was recently endorsed by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, has released a 30-second television ad attacking “woke liberals” and implying that trans women are “men pretending to be women,” as reported by the Kansas City Star.
The ad opens with pictures of Lia before and after her public transition, side by side. The ad tells us where Lia ranked in the men’s division and where she ranks in the women’s. The ad uses Lia’s deadname (her name assigned at birth) as well as a photo of her pretransition. There is absolutely no need to flaunt someone’s pretransition name and photo; sure, if someone is a public figure, that information is out there. But it’s mean-spirited and can be triggering and harmful to a person’s mental health. It’s also a way of continuously “outing” a person for no reason.
“Only one problem,” Hartzler says after introducing both photos. “It’s the same person.”
“Some people are afraid to talk about it. Not me,” Hartzler continues in the ad. “I ran and coached girl’s track, and I won’t look away while woke liberals destroy women’s sports. Women’s sports are for women. Not men pretending to be women.”
Here is that ad.
As an ongoing reminder: Trans women are women. Trans women are not pretending to be anyone. Trans women are not men. Trans women are not men pretending to be women. Full stop.
As some background on Thomas specifically, she’s a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and competes on the swim team. She’s on the women’s team now and competed on the men’s team in the past. She had been approved to participate on the women’s team by the NCAA back in 2020, actually, though this is her first year actually doing so because the season was delayed due to the pandemic.
I’m wary to detail her gender-affirming health care because I know such details can detract from the big-picture issue here, but she began taking testosterone suppressants and estrogen supplements back in 2019, and again, was approved by the NCAA to compete on the women’s team. If the NCAA is okay with it, I don’t think we need pseudo health and sports experts from the peanut gallery weighing in on someone’s medical state.
The hysteria about protecting women’s sports is smoke and mirrors. Want to really support women’s sports? Get women’s teams more funding; more opportunities for travel, training, and coaching; and truly invest in the infrastructure needed to make sports sustainable, safe, and accessible for all girls and women who want to play.
There are plenty of barriers when it comes to getting involved in sports, especially at a competitive or career level—the price of private leagues or individual coaching, for example, or the time commitment on the part of parents when it comes to travel leagues. The choice to take youth out of the classroom and into homeschooling to maximize practice time. The history of sexual abuse and assault in girls sports. The pressure and burnout and mental health struggles that can come with unfair amounts of pressure. Body image and weight issues. How about Republicans tackle even one of these points with the same amount of effort they’re putting into disparaging trans girls?
Oh, right. That would mean actually caring about (cisgender) women and girls and not just using them as political pawns.
If you want to get to a fuller sense of Harzler’s campaign angle, check out this video from three months ago, where she stokes fears about socialism, critical race theory, and China, and, of course, brags about supporting Donald Trump and his little border wall.