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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Transgender athletes shouldn't be barred from girls high school and intercollegiate women's sports

Layshia Clarendon #7 of the Liberty dribbles the

Layshia Clarendon #7 of the Liberty dribbles the ball during the second half of a game against the Phoenix Mercury at Feld Entertainment Center on August 02, 2020 in Palmetto, Florida.  Credit: Getty Images/Julio Aguilar

All of a sudden, it seems there are a lot of state legislators out there who are interested in women’s and girls’ sports.

On Wednesday, Florida became the most populous state to pass a bill that will ban transgender girls and women from participating in high school and college sports in the state. It will become law when Gov. Ron DeSantis, as expected, signs it. West Virginia went a step further on the very same day when Gov. Jim Justice signed a similar bill into law.

So far during the 2021 state legislative season, 30 states have introduced bills banning transgender girls and women from playing on interscholastic sports teams and having access to healthcare. A number of states already have athletic associations with policies that limit participation of transgender athletes.

"This is horrible, to say the least," said Layshia Clarendon, a shooting guard for the Liberty who identifies as transgender non-binary. "Obviously, sports means a lot to me, even if I didn’t make it to the professional ranks. Sports teaches us so much about life and being included and belonging. It’s really sad and heartbreaking that people are attacking little kids."

On Jan. 20, President Joe Biden signed an executive order which stated "Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports."

New York is one of 15 states with policies that encourage schools to have athletes participate on a team that matches their gender identity. On Monday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prevent a transgender girl from competing in girls high school sports in Connecticut.

The trend in many statehouses, however, is not toward protecting transgender students. The bills are almost always aimed at transgender girls who are seeking to participate on girls sports teams.

The belief of supporters is that separating children based on the sex they are assigned at birth, as opposed to the one they identify with, keeps the playing field fair. Some prominent female sports figures, most notably Martina Navratilova, have come out against the outright inclusion of transgender athletes based on the sex they identify with.

"We’re going to protect our girls," DeSantis said Friday in a town hall of red state governors hosted by Fox’s Laura Ingraham. "I have a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old daughter. They’re both very athletic. We want to have opportunities for our girls. They deserve an even playing field, and that’s what we’re doing."

Transgender youth are a very small minority of the U.S. population — 1.8 percent of high school students, according to a 2019 CDC report — and the number of those transgender girls likely to play sports and compete at an elite level is even smaller.

Jules Gil-Peterson, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has researched the history of trans children in the United States, said there really are few examples out there of transgender girls joining teams to get an unfair advantage in sports.

"It’s the greatest irony," Gil-Peterson said. "This huge legislative political storm is not being driven by people who give a damn about girls sports or women in sports. What seems to be happening is that we are in the grips of an anti-trans backlash and moral panic that has been brewing for years . . . It’s really easy to target kids. We don’t grant children the privilege to speak for themselves."

"You couldn’t come up with a more anti-woman and anti-girl stance if you tried. There are no real situations where trans girls participation has been a real issue… . . . It’s an entirely made up narrative. It’s making up a fantasy that doesn’t exist."

It certainly does seem a little ridiculous to imagine that an athlete would be so compelled to win a competition that they would go to all the trouble of changing their gender identity just so they could beat your daughter.

Ironically, these bills tend to have names like Idaho’s "The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act," which was the first trans bill to become law. One has to wonder how many of the bills’ supporters have ever watched a WNBA game or attended a women’s college sporting event. How many of them are ardent supporters of Title IX?

One has to wonder if they are interested in women’s sports at all or they are just fear mongering.

Depriving transgender girls of the right to compete in the sport in which they identify does more than hurt athletic transgender children. It sends a message out to all transgender children.

Said Clarendon: "Even for kids who don’t play sports, it’s in the national converstation. It’s just another reminder to trans and non-binary people that some folks want to erase us and they don’t want us to exist. My heart breaks for young people."

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