Transphobic lawmakers, taking their cues from rightwing media, anti-LGBTQ groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, and conservative feminists and TERFs, have found a new target in their attempts to limit the rights of trans people—trans high school athletes, and in particular, trans girls.
Republican legislators in five states—New Hampshire, Missouri, Georgia, Washington, and Tennessee—have recently introduced bills that would, if passed, bar trans students from competing in single-gender sports. In at least two states, the bills specifically bar trans girls and women from competing in women’s athletic events.
In Tennessee, Republican Bruce Griffey has introduced a bill that would require public schools to ensure that students are competing “against other athletes based on the athlete’s biological sex as indicated on the athlete’s original birth certificate issued at the time of birth.” Any school that did not comply would possibly lose their state funding, and individuals found to be violating the proposed law would be subject to fines up to $10,000. Similarly, the resolution introduced by Missouri Republican Robert Ross, which would put a constitutional amendment up before voters in November that would bar trans students from boys or girls sports, relies on the student’s sex assigned at birth as the determining factor. Georgia’s bill, prefiled by Republican Philip Singleton, would bar trans students at publicly funded high schools from participating in single-gender sports.
While the majority of bills target all trans students, it’s clear that the panic around trans athletes is directed largely at trans girls and women. New Hampshire’s bill, sponsored by a group of Republicans, specifically targets trans girls and women at K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities, and would bar trans girls and women from women’s sports. And in Washington, Republican Brad Klippert has prefiled a bill that would, in his words, “prohibit male students,” which he defines as students whose “sex assigned at birth was male,” “from competing with and against female students.”
As disgusting as all of this is, it’s not surprising, nor is it new. Groups like the ADF and the Heritage Foundation, as well as conservative feminists, have long attempted to wield the existence of trans athletes as a fearmongering tool in their effort to demonize trans people, warning darkly that allowing trans girls and women to compete in athletic events will spell the end of women’s sports. After largely losing their legislative battles around bathrooms, rightwing groups and lawmakers have now turned their attention to what they believe is a winning issue. “I think it will be the year of the trans-athletes bills in the way that 2016 was the year of the trans-bathroom bills,” the ACLU’s Chase Strangio told the Wall Street Journal. In 2019, lawmakers in South Dakota, which Naomi Gordon-Loebl described in the Nation as a “laboratory for anti-trans legislation,” attempted to pass a similar bill that narrowly failed. But it clearly laid out a blueprint for the spate of proposed bills now cropping up in states around the country.
And it’s clear that lawmakers are relying on the panic around trans girls and women to push their legislation, using rightwing talking points that cynically paint it as an issue of “fairness” and giving their bigotry a fake feminist gloss. “We all know that traditionally males generally have bigger hearts, bigger upper body strength, and that can give them a genetic advantage when competing against women in a number of sports,” Tennessee’s Griffey told a local news station. Philip Singleton, the sponsor of Georgia’s proposed bill who incidentally believes abortion should be illegal, told Georgia Public Radio that he was concerned chiefly with women’s equality. “We have fought for a long time to get the equalities that they have: the right to vote and the right to work and the right to participate in sports,” he told GPR. “I think it’s a travesty that we’re seeing this current trend. It’s a travesty that a biological male could come in and could dominate a female sport.”
None of these lawmakers are concerned at all with the wellbeing of the trans students they’re targeting. As Joanna Hoffman of Athlete Ally, a group that pushes for LGBTQ-inclusive sports policies, wrote in a statement to Jezebel, barring trans students from sports is a “denial of their humanity.”
“We are seriously concerned about the ways legislators across the country are targeting vulnerable youth,” Hoffman added. “Trans youth need support and community, not misinformation that spreads biases and leads to increased levels of abuse, harassment, stress and depression. Trans youth need compassion, not bills attempting to violently erase them as human beings.”