Attacks on trans kids’ rights are nothing new, but they are on the rise. In past years, Republicans legislators have tried to ban trans kids from the locker rooms and bathrooms that match their true gender. Those attempts were largely unsuccessful. But now lawmakers in 28 states have introduced 90 bills that go a step further by attempting to ban trans kids from sports and block their access to gender-affirming care.
Many of the bills targeting trans youth make gender-affirming healthcare inaccessible, if not illegal. Alabama, for example, recently approved a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to give trans youth puberty-blockers, which delay the onset of puberty, essentially forcing trans kids to go through bodily changes that conflict with their gender identity. The bill also prohibits doctors from giving trans kids gender-affirming hormones or surgery, which they typically may receive in their late teenage years.
If the anti-trans bills are passed and hold up in court, trans kids in those states won’t be able to compete in athletics or will face legal action if they do. One of the main arguments behind these bills is that transgender girls have an unfair biological advantage over cisgender girls. But these claims don’t stand up to closer inspection — and they have the potential to take away meaningful childhood experiences from trans youth.
“Transgender kids want to play sports for the same reason that other kids want to play sports,” says Fran Hutchins, executive director of the Equality Federation, the national head of state organizations working for LGBT+ equality. They just want a chance to challenge themselves and run around with their friends. They want to be part of a team, Hutchins says.
Here, Hutchins explains why transgender athlete bans are unnecessary and dangerous to kids and how parents can advocate for trans athletes in their schools.
What’s happening around the country with legislation about trans kids in sports?
It’s been a really hard year, seeing legislators across the country choose to put trans kids in the crosshairs. We’ve got about 110 bills now that are anti-trans. Around 90 of those are specifically attacking trans youth, whether that’s their access to trans-affirming healthcare or their ability to participate in sports. At least 50 of those are what we’re calling athlete bans that would keep trans kids from playing sports in their schools.
If the trans athlete bans do pass, what would they mean for transgender children and teens?
We can all reflect on what it was like to be on a team. I remember a specific soccer game when I was in high school. We played Fort Payne, Alabama, and they had the best soccer team. We played in the rain for an hour-and-a-half. We all got muddy, and I don’t remember the score, but we lost badly. What I do remember is riding home soaking wet with my team and having lived through that together. I remember that feeling of camaraderie, and that is what they’re going to miss out on.
Kids are going to miss out on the lessons about leadership and teamwork that we learn from playing sports, and they’re going to miss out on that feeling of belonging that you get from being part of a team. Trans kids will miss out on that, but cisgender kids will as well because they won’t be able to play with their friends who are trans, and they’ll sense that they’re part of something that is not inclusive.
Where did these bills come from?
This is actually a relatively new push. We started seeing them trickling in a couple of years ago. We had several last year, then with the pandemic, most states decided to focus on what was important, which was pandemic relief and economic relief, so they pushed the athlete bills to the backburner. We did have one pass last year in Idaho, but it’s currently being litigated because there are reasons to believe that this is not constitutional.
I’m glad you asked where it comes from, because it does come from a very specific place. There’s a well-funded, well-organized opposition that is trying to roll back every single thing that we won when it comes to creating a fair and equal United States for queer and trans people. That opposition is the Heritage Foundation and the Alliance Defending Freedom. They’re these groups that write boilerplate bills, and they send them to state legislators, and these legislators then introduce the bills in their states.
The bills are not coming from real needs in the community. These are not problems that people are coming to their legislators with and saying, “Wow, we need a big solution here.” It stems from this well-funded, anti-equality opposition.
What do you expect is the future of these bills?
Unfortunately, I think that some of them will get through this year. I think we’re going to see at a minimum one or two states pass these bills. They’re going to end up in court because excluding a young person from something because they are trans does not feel fair, and it’s most likely not legal.
What can parents do to fight back against these bills?
The name of the game here is to call your reps. Like I said, these bills are not coming from real needs in the states. People who are living in these communities need to let their legislators know that this is not something that they need. That, in fact, what they need is for sports for young people to remain inclusive. And that they want trans kids to be able to participate and have fun and learn.