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Transgender females have the right to play sports

Discriminatory laws, sidelining transgender athletes, are bing passed in state houses across the US. The problem is, they affect us all.
Transgender flag with people in the background

Before the end of the spring of 1967, marriage between people of different races was illegal. In fact, discriminatory laws in some states prohibited two people of different races from even dating or having a casual sexual relationship. If caught, they faced lengthy prison sentences in those states.

On June 12, 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that laws banning interracial marriages are unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution protects these relationships, they argued. Subsequently, Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states using the Loving ruling as precedent. As a result, I married my wife nearly eight years ago.

Public approval in the 1950s for interracial relationships was only five percent. Today, that percentage is closer to 90. That’s not bad considering the systemic racism in this country. Loving v. Virginia proved the point that all branches of government have the power to influence public opinion when it enacts discriminatory laws. And removing these laws changes public opinion for the better.

Queerness is more accepted and better understood today. Same-sex couples enjoy more rights and freedoms. LGBTQ people can legally adopt children and marry civilly if they so choose. Unfortunately, that’s where most of the rights and freedoms end.

Queer advancement

In 2021, the US House of Representatives passed the Equality Act with most of its support coming from the Democratic Party. This is an important piece of legislation that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Republicans argue this bill will infringe on religious freedoms, but what about our civic freedoms? The Equality Act is awaiting debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Opposing these bills sends a public message that the LGBTQ+ community is fair game for harassment, discrimination, brutalization, and murder because they seemingly become unworthy of protection under the law. And now, right-wing politicians are resorting to hatemongering against the LGBTQ+ community but targeting transgender women specifically.

The government must tread carefully when handling social issues because violence against the LGBTQ+ community, is rising. Particularly vulnerable are transgender people of color who have seen murder rates rise in their community. The previous administration’s vitriolic disdain toward transgender people put the community in danger, especially after denying them military service.

The backlash

The Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, stating that it’s illegal for employers to fire LGBTQ+ employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity was a pivotal ruling. The Court argued that this is unlawful under Title VII. It should be no surprise that this ground-breaking ruling came with a backlash tidal wave.

Now, legislators of primarily conservative-leaning state houses are introducing discriminatory bills against transgender individuals. And governors are wasting no time signing them into law. Some of these laws directly affect the entire transgender community but most of these bills target transgender women.

Discriminatory laws against transgender athletes in state houses

On June 1, 2021, Florida’s governor, signed into law a discriminatory transgender athlete bill. It’s worth noting that he signed it on the first day of Pride month, sending a clear message that he’s not only anti-LGBTQ+, but he’s also especially nasty about it. Instead of sending this discriminatory bill to the governor, the legislature should have been working around the clock to pass a bill ensuring equity between women’s and men’s athletic programs. They should have sent the governor a bill that ensures equitable playing fields, qualified coaches, and equal pay at the professional level. Instead, they’re shutting transgender female students out of playing sports altogether, even going as far as to make it illegal for parents to seek life-saving medical treatment for their transgender children.

These policymakers and the people who put them in power have contrived a problem where there is none. In the United States, less than one percent of all athletes identify as transgender. Whittle that down to how many identify as female, and there are even less. From there, count the ones involved in athletics and you have less still. Does this merit such discriminatory laws? This is another opportunity for right-wing leaders to express their blatant misogyny, transphobia, and racism to win more of their base. In other words, coddling white men.

Transgender athletes competing

Martina Navratilova thinks male athletes would go as far as transitioning to play in a women’s tournament, win the prize money, then transition back. This transphobic and baseless idea is disheartening, especially coming from someone in the LGBTQ+ community herself. It’s also absurd to imply that anyone would go to such lengths to get ahead in sports. Not to mention that her statements are a gross misunderstanding—if not a completely ignorant assessment—of what it is to be transgender in the first place. She should have asked her own tennis coach, Renée Richards, before speaking.

In 1976, after Richards transitioned, she fought to compete in the US Open Tennis Championship as a woman. After that, the tennis association began genetically screening female players. By the way, Navratilova beat Richards in the doubles finals of the 1977 US Open. The discrimination here is undeniable.

It’s sexist to think we need such discriminatory laws passed in the first place. Lawmakers purportedly introduce these bills with the guise of protecting women. But they harm women the most by misdirecting attention to a nonissue. Improving attendance at women’s sporting events, elevating women to higher ranks in sports organizations, and treating female players with the same respect afforded to their male counterparts are some of the issues on which lawmakers should be focusing their attention.

Trasnphobic laws on the books

These discriminatory bills, which are now becoming laws, have little or nothing to do with transgender athletes themselves. They hide in this context, scapegoating transgender women, insinuating it’s their fault why cisgender females aren’t provided an equitable chance at succeeding in sports. 

Who’s next on the chopping block? Cis female athletes who are truly exceptional in their sport? These athletes have every right to play, so too should transgender athletes. We should not allow mediocrity in women’s sports.

Millions enjoy the sport of running. Every year, thousands of runners descend on New York City, Chicago, Boston, and even Miami, to run that city’s official marathon and half-marathon races. The Boston Marathon didn’t allow women to run it until the 1960s. Now, women have shown more interest in the sport than men. Women’s participation has increased within the last decade. So, runners such as Shalane Flanagan and Allyson Felix, who train exhaustively, should be able to beat cisgender males and transgender females. These lawmakers also assume that men and transgender women don’t need to train to beat cis females. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Systemic racism and sexism in sports

Systemic racism plays a role here as well. The Olympics has banned a number of Black cis female athletes from competing in international games. Their naturally high testosterone levels were the apparent culprit. World Athletics, the international governing body for running, went so far as requiring these athletes to take hormone-altering medication. Meanwhile, the media scrutinizes them harshly for being strong, many times comparing Black cis female athletes to men or calling them much worse. 

Would it be fair to exclude females from playing a sport because of their naturally high testosterone levels and not do the same for males at the top of the testosterone ladder? Because I’m sure there are plenty.

Biological differences

Michael Phelps always had a biological advantage in the pool. His long torso and extremities gave him an advantage when it came to competition. Should he have been banned from swimming because he was too tall and his limbs to long? These biological advantages don’t take away the need for intensive training.

What of cis female athletes who exhibit masculinity? What will happen to the Abby Wambaches, Serena Williamses, or Billie Jean Kings of today’s youths in sports? Do they have to submit to a genitalia test? They already must submit to chromosome testing.  

Imagine asking Venus or Serena Williams to prove they’re biological females. Is that what we want for our young athletes? Do you have a young athlete at home who identifies as female and has a natural advantage over her competitor? Will they be unfairly scrutinized? It’s wrong to use someone’s biological differences to exclude them from playing. Title VII prohibits that kind of discrimination.

Trans women in swimming

Lia Thomas, the NCAA Division I swimmer, has been getting plenty of attention lately for breaking records. But what the right-wing politicos aren’t mentioning is that she hasn’t even come close to beating current Olympian and record holder Katie Ledecky’s time in the 500-yard freestyle. Had Riley Gaines, the swimmer from University of Kentucky, been swimming against Ledecky when she lost, Gaines would have been focusing on a new strategy to beat Ledecky on their next swim meet rather than crying foul play. In fact, Thomas was tied for fifth with Gaines in the 200-yard freestyle, proving my point that this has been taken completely out of context and proportion.

As a young player, I was constantly harassed for appearing to be male and displaying keen skill while playing on female teams. Players on the opposing team often accused me of being a male because of my strength and power. I heard it all the time when I was playing sports as a kid. It’s awful. Children have enough to worry about. Young people join team sports to learn to work together, solve problems, and gain confidence. They shouldn’t create suspicion and division within.

But with all eyes on this issue and the current makeup of the Supreme Court, I’m not sure we’re going to see an outcome that will protect any female athlete, whether cis or transgender. For more on this and other LGBTQ+ topics click here.

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