Imagine being a high school athlete barred from competing in the sport that you love. Or a collegiate athlete protected and included on one campus, but ridiculed and rejected after you transfer to a different campus. Or perhaps an Olympic hopeful told that your decades of hard work are meaningless and your ability to compete with your team is denied. These are some of many devastating realities for transgender athletes across the country.
We’re witnessing some of the worst attempts in modern history to degrade and discriminate against the transgender community. Since the inauguration of President Trump, we’ve watched as Obama-era guidance on trans protections were rescinded; as trans military members were told they couldn’t fight for their country; as multiple states have introduced anti-transgender legislation; and as more of our transgender brothers and sisters have been senselessly murdered for who they are.
As an organization, Athlete Ally works daily to fight for a world where all athletes – regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation – are respected and protected in sport. The reality remains that in many states across the country, athletes are forced to compete on the team (and ultimately use the locker room), that matches the sex on their birth certificate. This is a massive hurdle that transgender people sometimes can’t clear, due to strict guidelines and gatekeeping throughout the entire process of a legal gender marker change. And, it’s having drastic consequences on transgender student-athletes.
Locker rooms remain one of the most unwelcoming spaces for LGBT athletes. In fact, in a 2013 study of LGBT students in secondary school, GLSEN reported that 39 percent of LGBT athletes surveyed said they purposefully avoid locker rooms and 22 percent admit to avoiding athletic facilities and fields as a whole. The office for Victim Crime reports that 12 percent of transgender youth are sexually assaulted between grades K-12. In contrast, there are no reported cases of trans people sexually assaulting someone after being allowed to use the space consistent with their gender identity, debunking the often-used narrative to push “bathroom bills.” Forcing transgender people into spaces in which they don’t belong does nothing to protect cisgender people from sexual assault and only serves to put transgender people further in harm’s way.
This is why we must continue the work to establish consistent transgender-inclusive policies across sport governing bodies. While large governing bodies of sport – such as the NCAA or International Olympic Committee – have issued trans-inclusive recommendations that respect the right to self-identify given hormone monitoring, many K-12 programs and national governing bodies haven’t followed suit. These patchwork policies result in some of our best athletes unable to make it to that level of sport their potential would allow for. These policies often force transgender student-athletes out of the locker room they belong in, denying them the opportunity to connect with and belong on their team.
From John Carlos raising his fist on the Olympic podium to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, there has been a long-standing tradition of athletes taking a stand to support equity and equal opportunity for everyone. Numerous athletes and athletic organizations have already spoken out against these “bathroom bills” as they’re introduced. The NHL has issued a statement saying that should Texas pass an anti-trans bill, they may reconsider hosting the NHL draft in the state. The NHL is not alone in speaking out against this bill, more than 55 athletes and Olympians including Robby Rogers, Martina Navratilova, Tom Bosworth, and Brittney Griner stood with Athlete Ally and signed an open letter urging the Texas Legislature to reject an anti-trans bill.
It is heartbreaking to see the many ways in which individuals, organizations and government representatives continue to try to strip transgender athletes of their ability to compete openly and without restriction on their sports teams. Together, we must commit to the fight ahead – and stand up and speak out for the full dignity and protection of the LGBT community.
Hudson Taylor is founder and executive director of Athlete Ally and the 2015 guest editor of the Blade’s Sports Issue.