Sports Opinion: Discriminatory legislation is sidelining transgender athletes

Justine Fisch

Illustration by Calla McBride

On Oct. 18, 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 25, prohibiting transgender (trans) youth in grades K-12 from participating in interscholastic sports on teams with athletes that share their same gender identity. This bill forces trans athletes to compete among those who have their same biological sex, which is defined as the gender on their original birth certificate. Not only does this decrease trans representation in sports, but it also has a severe impact on the mental health of these young athletes. This bill, similar to 40 others this year, discriminates against transgender athletes, denying them the opportunity to rightfully compete among those that they identify with.

The Texas bill, along with others, provides no legitimate reason as to why transgender youth should not be able to play on teams with athletes of the same gender identity. A trans student may experience detrimental effects to their physical and emotional wellbeing when they are denied the opportunity to play with their preferred gender. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLENS), an organization dedicated to mitigating harassment and discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ community, a 2019 National School Climate Survey found that one in 10 LGBTQIA+ youth had been discouraged from playing school sports due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This shows that trans youth, despite their human right to participate and compete in sporting events, are being further denied opportunity and excluded from cisgender (cis) athletes

Legislation that limits the opportunity of trans youth has disproportionately targeted trans women and girls. Supporters of this particular bill, as well as other anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, claim that the reason for limiting these individuals from competing with or against athletes they identify with is because trans women have a “biological advantage.”

Asserting the idea that trans women have an “unfair advantage” over cisgender women further pushes the stereotype that women are weaker than men. The biggest argument made by the opposition is that trans women still have testosterone levels similar to those of males, therefore giving them a physical advantage. Medical personnel such as geneticist and pediatrician Dr. Eric Vilain have agreed that a person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not evident indicators of athletic performance, as stated in a National Public Radio (NPR) article. Therefore, there is no inherent reason why a trans women’s physiological characteristics determine their athletic performance or should be treated any differently from a cisgender woman. 

Denying trans youth the opportunity to compete among their peers causes serious mental health damage as they suffer from higher rates of bullying, anxiety and depression. Due to the impacts of these physiological issues, it makes it much more difficult for them to train and compete. Trans youth involved in sports report a ​​27.6 percent greater risk of suicide rates than cis youth athletes.  

These discriminatory limitings against trans youth impact not only their mental health but also severely decrease the amount of representation in professional athletics. There were no open trans athletes who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics and very few at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, despite the team allowing trans athletes to participate for many years now. These bills that neglect trans youth and legally prohibit them from competing among those they identify with significantly affect the rates at which they continue to participate in athletics, especially in professional sports. Without having role models in the form of adult athletes to represent the LGBTQIA+ community, trans youth participation decreases, lessening the opportunity to gain the essential skills like individual leadership and teamwork that come from youth athletics. This further shows that legislation is purposefully alienating trans athletes from their cis competitors.

For all athletes, sports provide an opportunity to build relationships as well as maintain a healthy exercise routine. Depriving trans youth of this same experience completely separates them from their peers, hindering their mental and physical health. Along with being denied the opportunity to form lasting relationships, trans athletes are also subject to additional bullying or harmful threats. According to the Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQIA+ mental health, over 40 percent of respondents reported being physically harmed or threatened due to their orientation. Trans youth are already subject to a difficult childhood experience and by neglecting their right to compete among those they identify with, they are given less opportunity to interact and participate than their cis peers.

Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills this year, more than than any other state. Their reasoning for supporting this legislation is incoherent and completely discriminatory. Trans athletes, who are subject to less opportunity and struggle with greater rates of mental health issues, are not only being denied their right to compete among those they classify themselves with, but also their right to express their individuality and gender identity.