No matter how craftily it’s dressed up, no matter how disingenuously it’s spun, bigotry is still bigotry.
Mississippi sprinted to the front of the pack of states using transgender kids to score political points with passage of a bill Wednesday that would prohibit trans girls and young women from playing sports. Never mind that this is very much a solution in search of a problem, and that bills such as these have the very real potential of putting kids who already have an elevated rate of suicide and mental health issues further at risk.
There are cultural wars to be won, and the people waging them don’t give a damn who they hurt in the process.
“All of us were children at some point. Imagine if someone were to tell you that who you are shouldn’t exist. That your identity is completely meaningless,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Thursday.
“What I’m asking people to do is see beyond themselves and put themselves in the shoes of transgender youth who are being told by legislators that they don’t exist, that they’re second class, and imagine the impact that has on their mental health.”
Rep. Becky Currie, shown here in a file photo from Feb. 4, 2021, spoke in favor of a bill banning transgender athletes from competing on girls' or women's sports teams in Mississippi's schools and universities. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis, AP)
Backers of the flurry of bills – the HRC says of the 71 bills already filed this year to legalize discrimination of transgender people, 35 relate to athletics – say they’re trying to “protect” girls and young women because their ability to compete is being hijacked by transgender athletes. The argument is designed to sound noble, as if these legislators and the far-right legal groups egging them on are the last line of defense against boys and young men overrunning girls’ sports because they can’t compete against their own gender.
Which is nonsense. Hateful nonsense, at that.
Transgender kids have been playing sports for years and it hasn’t resulted in anything close to a takeover of podiums or teams. In fact, when The Associated Press asked the lawmakers in more than 20 states who are sponsoring bans on transgender girls competing in high school sports to give specific instances when this created problems, very few could.
“(The AP) found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports,” the AP reported Wednesday.
And that much-ballyhooed case in Connecticut, where three girls sued in February 2020, claiming they could never compete against transgender girls and were thus being deprived of state titles and untold amounts of glory? In the 10 days after the lawsuit was filed, one of the plaintiffs beat one of those girls stealing all her hopes and dreams.
Twice. Both times for state titles.
“Excluding them just because of personal prejudice is not fair,” said Dr. Timothy Roberts, fellowship director of the adolescent medicine fellowship at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. “They don’t really have an advantage. They’re just another person who wants to play.”
Roberts’ opinions are particularly noteworthy because they’re based in science, not hysteria. Echoing other medical professionals, Roberts said there is no inherent athletic advantage for any gender until puberty.
But Roberts, along with two other physicians, also examined medical records and fitness test results of Air Force members to determine how long transgender women have an athletic advantage after they’ve undergone hormone therapy.
“We found that for the transgender women, their advantage starts to decline soon as they start to take testosterone blockers,” Roberts said. “Their advantage is gone by two years.”
And that’s for adults. For adolescents who’ve gone through puberty, Roberts said the playing field will have been leveled after a year.
“Absolute bans, there’s not a justification for that,” Roberts said. “That’s just discriminatory for no good reason. And harmful to the people you’re excluding. And once they get through the initial period (on hormones), it doesn’t have a benefit for the people they’re trying to `protect.’”
Is it possible a transgender girl will continue to be faster or better than the competition? Sure. But it won’t be because of her gender.
Michael Phelps has an extra-long torso and wingspan, and is double-jointed in both his ankles and elbows, giving him a near-perfect body for swimming. But instead of penalizing him for his physical advantage over his competitors, he is celebrated for his 23 Olympic gold medals and multiple world records. Athletes who can afford the best coaches, training, nutrition and equipment are deemed fortunate, not accused of trying to game the system.
“The level playing field is certainly illusory. We allow and even celebrate advantages in sport all the time,” said Joanna Harper, an adviser to the International Olympic Committee and author of “Sporting Gender: The History Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes.”
But trans kids have become pawns in this country’s toxic morality play.
While the number of bills targeting transgender kids has increased sharply over the last two years, this is part of a long and coordinated legal attack on the LGBTQ community. First it was gay marriage. Then it was the so-called “bathroom bills.”
Now it’s trans kids playing sports.
“They did that based on polling,” David, of the HRC, said. “They’re attacking us, LBGTQ people and specifically transgender people, because they believe it will help them mobilize their base. They believe this issue, as it relates to trans sports, will do this.”
There are real kids behind those polling numbers, though. Boys and girls for whom acceptance, love and understanding is already elusive. Kids who just want to live the lives they were meant to, as the people they are.
Sports have always provided lessons that kids will carry through the rest of their lives. Hate should not be one of them.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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