Trans Girls Belong in Sports

I Used to Hate Sports. Anti-Trans Legislators Changed That.

· Updated on October 4, 2023

The air was a mix of saltwater and fog as I passed by Joe DiMaggio Park, a small park in San Francisco named after the legendary baseball player and husband of the iconic Marilyn Monroe.

I passed by the park often on my way to the library, it was the dingy wooden sign at the entrance I first noticed. Despite its faded paint and chipped edges, it radiated an undeniable sense of history and charm. 

As I watched the tennis match unfold before me, the sound of tennis balls hitting rackets and the players’ grunts filled my ears. For hours, they battled it out on the court, each one determined to come out on top. When the match finally came to a close, one player emerged as the victor, and the two competitors shook hands in a display of sportsmanship. 

As a trans woman, I don’t enjoy sports. Trying to fit into that world is like trying to force my feet into shoes that are two sizes too small—it’s painful, uncomfortable, and ultimately, not worth the effort. Despite this, I am still keeping an eye on the recent controversy surrounding Lia Thomas and trans women in sports. It’s a topic that has sparked heated debates among lawmakers and media outlets, with arguments revolving around supposed advantages in strength and speed.

In a room full of Ohio lawmakers at the Statehouse, it was Rep. Emilia Sykes who said: “trans youth are just that—youth. They should be allowed to live their lives without fear and discrimination and have access to the same opportunities as their peers,” a statement highlights the importance of giving trans and nonbinary kids the same opportunities as their peers, and creating a safe and inclusive environment for them to thrive in.

The issue of trans rights in sports is important because it impacts the lives of trans people who want to participate in sports that align with their gender. Denying them the opportunity to participate in these sports can lead to feelings of exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization. It can also have long-term consequences on their mental health and well-being. Furthermore, the debate surrounding trans rights in sports highlights the larger issue of discrimination against the trans community, and the need for greater education and awareness to promote acceptance and inclusion.

I know firsthand the importance of creating a safe and inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of their gender or expression.

The real threat to women’s sports isn’t trans athletes, but rather underfunding and a lack of resources. 

Serena Sonoma

It was the scorching August of 1999 when I joined the boys’ soccer team, donning my sweat-soaked soccer uniform with an air of confidence. The sweltering heat and oppressive humidity made it challenging, but I was determined to prove myself. However, as the game wore on, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being different from my teammates. Despite my lack of natural talent, I used the game as a way to channel my energy. But after a few months, I decided to trade my cleats for jump ropes and joined the girls in double-dutch on the school playground.

As I reflect on my own experiences as a trans woman, I can’t help but think of the current controversy surrounding Lia Thomas, a trans athlete who made headlines as a competitive swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania. Despite her impressive achievements in the pool, some have argued that her participation in women’s swimming competitions is unfair and gives her an advantage over cisgender women. Others have countered that this argument is rooted in transphobia and unfair stereotypes about trans athletes.

The debate over Lia Thomas’s participation in women’s swimming competitions has sparked legislative proposals aimed at preventing trans women from competing in women’s sports altogether. These proposals are not only discriminatory but also based on flawed assumptions about the inherent physical advantages of cisgender women. In reality, the real threat to women’s sports isn’t trans athletes, but rather, underfunding and a lack of resources. 

According to a study conducted by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and the Transgender Law Center, trans athletes have been participating in sports for several decades. Despite this, they still face significant barriers to participation and fair treatment.

Trans women athletes often face discrimination and exclusion from sports programs due to their gender identity. Many are forced to undergo invasive medical exams and hormone level tests to “prove” their gender, which can be both expensive and emotionally taxing. Furthermore, trans women athletes are often subject to harassment and threats from opponents and spectators, and many are denied access to locker rooms and other facilities.

Despite these challenges, trans women athletes have proven to be successful competitors in a variety of sports. In fact, a study conducted by the International Olympic Committee found that trans women who have undergone hormone therapy for at least one year do not have an unfair advantage over cisgender women. 

The discrimination faced by trans athletes is not limited to Lia Thomas. trans athletes across the country continue to face significant barriers to participation and fair treatment in sports.

The stress of navigating discriminatory policies and attitudes can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Additionally, many trans athletes are denied access to proper medical care, such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries, which can impact their physical health and well-being.

One example is activist and athlete Andraya Yearwood, a high school track star from Connecticut. Despite being a successful runner, Yearwood has faced harassment and exclusion from other athletes and coaches due to her gender identity. In 2018, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference implemented a policy allowing trans athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity, but this has not stopped the discrimination faced by Yearwood and other trans athletes.

Another example is Terry Miller, another high school track athlete from Connecticut. Like Yearwood, Miller has faced discrimination and exclusion from other athletes and coaches, despite her success on the track. Miller and Yearwood’s cases have been the subject of legal challenges and media attention, highlighting the broader issue of discrimination against trans athletes in sports.

If we’re looking to fight discrimination against trans athletes, there are a few things we can do: 

  1. Inclusive policies: Organizations and institutions can implement inclusive policies that allow trans athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity, without the need for invasive medical exams or hormone level tests.
  2. Education and awareness: Educational programs and public awareness campaigns can help combat discrimination by educating the public about trans rights and the importance of inclusivity. This includes educating coaches, athletes, and other stakeholders about the experiences and needs of trans athletes.
  3. Support networks: Trans athletes need support networks that can offer resources, advocacy, and emotional support. This includes organizations that specialize in trans rights, as well as allies who can offer support and advocacy.
  4. Legal protections: Having recourse to these protections is crucial to combat discrimination against trans athletes. This includes anti-discrimination laws and policies that protect trans individuals from discrimination in sports and other areas of life.

It’s important to recognize that combating discrimination against trans athletes is not just the responsibility of trans people themselves, but rather, it’s a collective effort that requires the support and advocacy of allies and members of the broader community.

Educating the public about trans rights and the importance of inclusivity is crucial to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all athletes, regardless of their gender identity or expression. By supporting trans athletes, advocating for their rights, and promoting inclusivity in sports, we can help ensure that all athletes have the opportunity to compete and thrive in sports, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

I may not have been a sports fan in the past, but, I have a newfound interest. As I watch this upcoming Warriors vs. Lakers game, I can’t help but hope that it angers anti-trans legislators like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” who seek to exclude trans athletes from participating in sports based on their gender identity.

Just as Bradbury’s novel warns against censorship, we must also speak out against discrimination and prejudice in all forms. So let’s watch this game with a renewed sense of purpose and use it as an opportunity to raise awareness about trans rights and the importance of inclusivity.♦

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