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Legislation Nationwide Seeks To Ban Trans Girls From Playing on Girl's Teams

young girl sitting in the grass on a soccer field

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Key Takeaways

  • On March 11, Mississippi enacted a law banning transgender girls from competing on girl's sports teams.
  • Over the past two years, states across the country have proposed similar, discriminatory laws without any merit behind their claims.
  • These laws impact girls as young as elementary school and have detrimental psychological consequences.

On Thursday, March 11, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed the “Mississippi Fairness Act” into law, barring transgender girls from competing in sports teams aligned with their gender identity.

The same week, a similar law passed South Dakota’s state legislature, with Governor Kristi Noem expected to sign it. On Thursday, the Kansas state Senate passed a similar bill which will soon be voted on in the state's House of Representatives. At least 25 states have proposed similar, discriminatory bills, and the number is growing.

“Having these bills merely introduced, discussed, and on the table is so othering,” says Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at Human Rights Campaign.

“When you’re talking about a global pandemic where children have been isolated, and they’ve been kept away from their peers, and they’ve been kept inside and away from everybody else for their own safety and the safety of people around them. The idea that you would be telling those kids, hey, don’t come back out, we don’t want you, is just crushing,” says Oakley.

In past years anti-transgender bills have primarily focused on bathroom use and changing gender markers on formal documents. However, there has been a growing crusade against trans girls competing in sports in the past few years.

In April 2020, Idaho became the first state to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. The “Fairness In Women’s Sports Act” declared that girls as young as elementary school-age might have to undergo sex testing to compete in sports. Sex testing involves invasive procedures such as genital examination, hormone testing, and genetic testing. The law allows anyone to file a claim disputing the child’s sex. 

The popularity of these laws grows as Republican politicians continually fail to protect their constituents from the pandemic’s fallout. As Oakley says, politicians are “focusing on trying to hurt trans youth and inventing this issue that trans youth are really the thing to be scared of instead of dealing with things like masks and reopening schools and getting vaccines in people's arms.”

No, These Bills Don’t Have Merit

Proponents of bills barring transgender girls from sports hide their anti-transgender rhetoric behind the claim that allowing everyone to participate would create an unequal playing field. But transgender girls are girls, and even if you insist on considering underlying differences in biology or testosterone levels, many trans girls undergo hormone therapy which mitigates that concern.

These aren't boys undercover trying to beat all the girls at volleyball. Trans girls are kids who simply want to feel like they're part of a team, just like everyone else.

In February 2020, three cisgender girls’ families filed a lawsuit, outraged that transgender girls could participate in high school girls’ track leagues. The lawsuit, against the Connecticut Association of Schools, claimed transgender girls had an unfair advantage. 

“I have faced discrimination in every aspect of my life and I no longer want to remain silent. I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community, and meaning in my life. It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored,’ said Terry Miller, one of the two girls targeted by the lawsuit, in a statement

Cathryn Oakley, Senior counsel at Human Rights Campaign

Having these bills merely introduced, discussed, and on the table is so othering.

— Cathryn Oakley, Senior counsel at Human Rights Campaign

Two days after filing, a girl from one of the litigious families beat Miller in a Connecticut state championship. This is but one of countless examples that undermine these bills’ rationale and reveals them for what they are: undeniable discrimination.

“We know that trans kids can participate in sports without there being any negative ramifications for cisgender girls. We know that because 20 states allow trans kids to participate consistent with their gender identity," says Oakley.

Oakley continues, "We also know that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has found a way to make this work. We know the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has found a way to make this work at the Olympic level and that this is an invented problem and there’s truly no issue here to solve.”

In a March 10 letter to the NCAA, 545 collegiate athletes across over 80 universities demanded the organization refuse to host games in any state that passes an anti-trans bill. “Trans youth will not be able to play and excel at the sports they love, causing a ripple effect that will eventually remove an integral element of the diversity of college sport. Failure to speak up now will harm current and future athletes—perhaps irreparably.” 

The Harm These Bills Can Have On Transgender Girls

The mere existence of these bills creates a painful situation for anyone who is transgender, enforcing ideas of hate and mistrust instead of acceptance and love. 

While these laws will impact people of all ages, transgender children may not be able to advocate for themselves or have a trusted person to do so on their behalf. They may not be out or struggling to find acceptance and these actions by adults in power fuel these challenges. 

Negative Impact on Mental Health

In a 2019 survey from The Trevor Project of high school students, 35% of transgender youth reported attempting suicide in the past year, and 53% felt “sad or hopeless” for at least two weeks of the past year. On top of that, 27% felt unsafe going to school, and 24% had been threatened or injured with a weapon at school in the past 30 days.

“Trans girls are already experiencing high rates of bullying, anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts,” says Stephanie Wheeler, head coach of women’s wheelchair basketball and co-coordinator of the disability ally program at the University of Illinois.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Disputing a child's sex and requesting a child provide proof of their gender could be quite psychologically harmful.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

“When we then reject them from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, we are further pushing them to the margins and show them that they aren’t welcome in any of the same spaces as their peers.”

Katy Binstead, a resident of Mississippi, recently spoke out about the detrimental effect the state’s bill and similar policies have on her transgender daughter. “The district requires her to play on the boy’s team because of the gender on her birth certificate. My daughter isn't comfortable playing with the boys, because she's not a boy, and she never has been a boy,” she said at a news conference

As is the case in Idaho, any girl in sports accused of being a boy will have to undergo an invasive examination under many of these laws. On top of such an ordeal’s traumatic nature, genital presentation is not an indication of a person’s gender.

Amy Morin, psychotherapist, and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, weighs in, "Disputing a child's sex and requesting a child provide proof of their gender could be quite psychologically harmful."

Actions To Take 

Though many of these bills are advancing, there are ways to fight back. In Utah, Democratic legislators and nonprofits organized and defeated a similar bill by showcasing the clear psychological ramifications of and the opposition to such legislation, says Joshua Rush, communications director of the Utah Democratic Party.

Anti-transgender sports bills now exist in almost half the states. You can push back by researching anti-transgender legislation where you live, which organizations and lawmakers are working against it, and which need a firm nudge. 

“Please, please let legislators know that this is not something that you think is important, that you do not appreciate having trans kids scapegoated and that there are actual issues that are facing our country,” says Oakley. “Tell them trans kids are kids, and they should be able to play.” 

Parents should also educate themselves on the reality behind transgender issues as much of the discrimination is based on fear and ignorance. "It could be helpful for adults who are pushing these bills to study the facts. Olympic teams and collegiate teams who have addressed this issue have found that the fears that often drive these measures in the first place are unfounded," says Morin.

Protesting and speaking out can make a difference even where the outcome seems predetermined. In South Dakota, Noem has delayed signing the anti-transgender bill into law after facing protests.  

For those working in sports, Wheeler stresses the importance of creating a loving and welcoming environment for all. The same is true for students, families, and classmates. Everyone deserves to play proudly as themselves. 

What This Means For You

These laws come from a place of hate, not fact. They perpetuate a culture of rejection for no other reason than a person living as who they truly are. “Trans kids have bodies that need exercise. Trans kids have friends who they want to play with. Trans kids like to have fun too. They're just kids. Having grown-ups take aim at them and scapegoat them for partisan political gain is infuriating and offensive,” says Oakley.  

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  1. Research Brief: Data on Transgender Youth. The Trevor Project. Published February 22, 2019.