09 March 2021
Lawmakers in the American state of Mississippi passed a measure last week to ban transgender athletes from joining competitive female sports teams. Similar bills are under consideration in more than 20 legislatures around the United States.
Supporters of the proposed bans say transgender girls are naturally stronger and faster because they are biologically male. They argue this gives them an unfair edge over competitors born as girls.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an organization that supports and defends individual rights. The organization called the proposed bans "a coordinated attack on trans student athletes." It said the "proposed laws discriminate against trans youth in ways that compromise their health, social and emotional development, and safety. They also raise a host of privacy concerns."
The proposed state bans – supported by Republicans – could go against part of a federal education law barring sex discrimination and high court rulings on the issue. In addition, others say an executive order signed by President Joe Biden, a Democrat, bars discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.
How widespread is it?
Nationwide, 19 American states permit full inclusion of trans athletes; 16 have no clear state policy; seven require trans girls to take female hormones; and eight ban trans girls from girls' teams. That information comes from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
There is no official count of how many trans athletes have competed in high school or college sports. State high school and college athletic associations do not collect that information. In states that do collect it, the numbers are low—no more than five students currently in Kansas and nine in Ohio over five years.
Transgender adults make up a small percentage of the U.S. population, about 1.3 million as of 2016. That information comes from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in research on LGBTQ issues.
People who oppose the growing attention and rights for transgender people, though, say that new laws are needed to keep the sports fair for cisgender girls.
In Connecticut, a federal court is hearing a legal action seeking to block transgender girls from participating in girls' sports. It centers on two transgender girl sprinters: Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood. They have often performed better than their cisgender competitors.
"When the law does not recognize differences between men and women, we've seen that women lose," said Christiana Holcomb. She is a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) which filed the legal action in February 2020.
The ADF and groups like it are helping the ban campaigns of lawmakers. When asked for other examples of complaints about middle or high school transgender athletes, ban supporters gave two.
One involved a Hawaii female coach who complained last year over a trans girl competing in girls' sports. The other involved a cisgender girl in Alaska who defeated a trans runner in 2016. She said the trans girl's third-place finish was unfair to runners who were further behind.
Only one state, Idaho, has enacted a law limiting trans students' sports participation. And that 2020 measure was blocked by a court ruling.
Effects of proposed ban
The bills under consideration by state legislatures this year, however, could prove harmful for transgender athletes.
In Utah, a 12-year-old transgender girl cried when she heard about the proposal, which would separate her from her friends. She is shorter than some of the other girls on the swim team and has worked hard to improve her times, her coach said. But she is not the strongest swimmer in her age group.
"Other than body parts, I've been a girl my whole life," she said.
The girl and her family spoke with The Associated Press on the condition that her name not be shared publicly.
In New Jersey, 14-year-old Rebekah Bruesehoff competes on her middle school field hockey team. "I know what it's like to have my gender questioned," Rebekah said. "I don't want others to go through that."
New Jersey has a trans-inclusive sports policy. But other states could force athletes to take tests to prove their gender. That was one of the reasons 17-year-old Truman Hamburger protested a bill before the North Dakota legislature.
"Once you open up that door on gender policing," that's not a door you can easily close, he said.
Sarah Huckman is a 20-year-old student at the University of New Hampshire. She competed in running for three years after coming out as trans in the seventh grade. The proposed bans sicken her.
"We're all human beings," she said. "We do sports for the love of it."
I'm Alice Bryant. And I'm Dan Friedell.
Alice Bryant adapted the story for Learning English with reporting from the Associated Press. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
transgender – adj. of or relating to people who feel that their true nature does not match their sex at birth
athlete – n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength
hormone – n. a natural substance that is produced in the body and that influences the way the body grows or develops
association – n. an organized group of people who have the same interest or job
LGBTQ – adj. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer
coach – n. a person who teaches and trains the members of a sports team and makes decisions about how the team plays during games
cisgender – adj. relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender matches their birth sex
sprinter – n. a runner who runs fast-paced races for short distances
field hockey – n. outdoor game played by two teams who use sticks to hit a small, hard ball into their opponent's goal