Trans women belong in women’s sports

By Jen Warner

In the country wide race to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports, states are pushing a hateful solution to a nonexistent problem.

In March 2021, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee became the first states to pass dangerous legislations targeting the rights of transgender athletes, with more than half of America’s states seeking to follow suit.

Transgender women are women, and women athletes don’t need protection from anything but the government passing uneducated, unnecessary, and unsubstantiated judgement on their participation in sport.

These bans are problematic for several reasons. 

Map of proposed transgender youth sports bans. Stateline Research and Stateline/TNS. 

First of all, gender is a social construct, not a discrimination tool.

Experts agree that there are vast combinations of physical characteristics, anatomical presentations, and genetic variants found in the human body. As a result, sex and gender cannot then be binary.

The World Health Organization recognizes and defines gender as a social construct. According to their website, this social invention as it stands is “hierarchical and produces inequalities that intersect with other social and economic inequalities.”

Their definition goes on to recognize the harm that rigid gender norms inflict on “diverse gender identities who often face violence, stigma and discrimination as a result.” 

As per the American Civil Liberties Union, this discrimination is evident as transgender Americans face countless bills that criminalize providing healthcare to trans youth, restrict access to certain facilities, legalize religious based bias, make it impossible to obtain proper identification documents, and more.

In summary, society created the idea that there are two genders, and lawmakers are building on that foundation made of sand as they further their efforts to discriminate against roughly 1.4 million Americans, according to a 2016 report completed by UCLA School of Law.

Second, the bans are baseless, and the data doesn’t support the need for them.

Those supporting transgender athlete bans are relying heavily on scare tactics and fear driven claims lacking any real examples of incidents in which an unfair advantage of trans women over cisgender women actually exists.

DCCC Wellness, Athletics, and Recreation director Sara Steinman reflected on this lack of evidence through her own experiences as a queer person, an athlete, an educator, and an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

“As a feminist and somebody who cares about the inequities that we see based on gender in sports, this idea that individuals assigned male at birth are naturally superior to all females assigned at birth is an unfounded superficial idea that hasn’t been backed by any statistics.”

– Sara steinman

Steinman is referring to the statistic that transgender athletes have legally participated in Olympic sports since 2003 without receiving any medals and without even qualifying for the Olympics. 

“Transgender girls and women are being attacked and excluded from sport based solely on fear and stigma and not on scholarly work or science,” Steinman said. “Looking at women as a naturally inferior gender who need protection is an act that needs to be dissected.”

The unsupported argument made frequently by those in favor of these bigoted bills is that the testosterone present in athletes who have transitioned from male to female puts them at some sort of competitive advantage. This assertion is one that Steinman has struggled with.

A bill in South Carolina would effectively ban transgender girls from participating in high school and middle school women’s sports. (Dreamstime/TNS)

“I’m 5 feet tall and I played college basketball, so the 6 footers that I played against had a competitive advantage against me,” Steinman said. “Yet there is no argument that there needs to be two separate leagues for tall people and short people in basketball.”

To Steinman’s point, if this ridiculous rationale were applied to other areas of sport, then opposing football positions should be matched in weight for fear of a hard hit, and baseball officials should regulate rosters to ensure teams aren’t unfairly stacked with lefthanded pitchers.

These policies don’t exist because there is no evidence to support the benefit of such segregation and interference.

Therefore, the argument that transgender athletes should be lawfully excluded from sport for fear of their natural potential is hate driven, sexist, and baseless.

Third, the bans are targeting youth sports, where competitive advantage doesn’t pay.

Dozens of protesters gathered in Idaho to show support for transgender athletes facing bans. Katherine Jones/Idaho Statesman/TNS/Reuters.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued the “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation” aimed at reversing the pain inflicted on the LGBTQ+ community by his predecessor.

The order states clearly in the first section that “children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

Undeterred, many states are hard at work to see their anti-trans bills through the legislation process as they reinforce a system in which science is inferior to status, fear is superior to fact, and hate precedes humanity. 

Steinman expressed her concern with a system that has needlessly set its sights on youth sports in an attempt to protect an unproven competitive advantage that isn’t even quantified or rewarded with a paycheck at this age.

“Youth sports are about teamwork, problem solving, being physically active, learning how to overcome adversity, learning how to win humbly and lose gracefully,” Steinman added.

Clearly, excluding athletes at such a developmental age based on gender identity and using the argument that it creates an unfair competitive edge does nothing but neglect future generations of transgender kids looking to experience the camaraderie, sportsmanship, teamwork, and work ethic that sports provide.

Furthermore, the rapid and disturbing rise in transgender sports bans communicates a list of dire needs for the trans community.

First, they are in need of more elected officials in every state who prioritize their rights and lived experiences.

Second, the trans community needs visibility. They need fellow transgender athletes such as Chris Mosier to continue to use their platforms to fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

In addition to being the first transgender athlete to represent the United States in international competition, Mosier also founded the website transathlete.com, which serves as “a resource for students, athletes, coaches, and administrators to find information about trans inclusion in athletics at various levels of play.”

They also need sports writers such as Julie DiCaro and Jane McManus to continue to spread awareness for marginalized groups through podcasts like “The Ladies Room,” which often addresses the intersection of human rights and sports.

In addition to recording the podcast, DiCaro also authored and published the book “Sidelined” in which she tackles the issues women face in sports on a regular basis, including but not limited to misogyny, female body exploitation, sexism in the workplace, and gender inequality.

Most importantly, the trans community needs educators like Steinman, who consistently uses her position to foster the best and most inclusive environment she can for her students.

“The reason that I do the work that I do in college athletics is to be able to provide student athletes with the best possible experience,” Steinman said. “That means providing all student athletes with a space that they feel like they can compete and be themselves, and that obviously extends to the LGBT community.”

And lastly, the trans community needs you. They need advocates in mass who are, as Steinman so eloquently put it, committed to obtaining fact-based education, to practicing amplified compassion, to contacting state representatives when applicable, and to a willingness to challenge their own narrative as we strive to do better as a society.

Contact Jen Warner at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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