Transgender athletes in Connecticut and their advocates secured a victory on Friday when an appeals court ruled that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) may move forward with a policy that allows transgender girls to compete on female sports teams.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that discrimination against transgender students violates Title IX, which prevents educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sex.
“Today’s ruling is a critical victory for fairness, equality, and inclusion,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who represented the CIAC, five Connecticut school boards and two former athletes in the case, said in a statement. “This critical victory strikes at the heart of political attacks against transgender youth while helping ensure every young person has the right to play.”
In a 2020 complaint, four cisgender high school athletes — Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith and Ashley Nicoletti — alleged athletic opportunities had been taken away from them by transgender girls and argued that a 2013 CIAC policy permitting transgender athletes to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender identity was discriminatory because it had “regularly” resulted in the displacement of cisgender girls in competitive athletic events.
“In scholastic track competition in Connecticut, more boys than girls are experiencing victory,” the initial lawsuit stated, referring to the transgender female athletes.
The complaint filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organization, had sought to bar two transgender athletes — Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood — from competing in the 2020 spring outdoor track season, which was later canceled due to early pandemic shutdowns.
The lawsuit also demanded an admission from five Connecticut school districts that enforcing the CIAC policy violated Title IX and asked that Miller and Yearwood’s state track records be voided.
Both women graduated high school in 2020 and do not compete at the collegiate level.
From setting NCAA records to taking home gold at the Olympics, these trans athletes are making themselves known.
Transgender athletes are not a new phenomenon. Yet, although trans people have almost certainly competed in sports over the past thousands of years, the modern history of elite trans athletes began with Renée Richards in the 1970s.
Richards, an ophthalmologist and professional tennis player, had long competed against men at a high level. After her transition, she wanted to keep playing, this time against fellow women. However, officials denied her entry to the 1976 U.S. Open. Richards sued and won, earning the right to compete at the tournament in 1977.
Like trans athletes today, Richards had both strong supporters and detractors. Many people saw the discrimination she faced and helped her combat it.
Still, many others attempted to ban her from women’s competitions. They accused her of having a biological advantage and made her undergo intensive testing to determine whether she was “woman enough” to compete.
In the years since, the challenges facing trans athletes have shifted, but they haven’t disappeared. State lawmakers are barring transgender youth from sports. Athletes have signed petitions stating that trans women athletes have unfair advantages.
Sports organizations have been working on setting fair rules for when trans athletes can compete, with requirements ranging from maintaining certain hormone levels to having surgery on their genitals to — for some trans male athletes in particular — nothing at all.
Understanding of how being transgender, particularly a trans woman, affects an athlete’s play is still evolving. But in the meantime, trans athletes are training alongside their cisgender peers — with the extra burden of having to overcome the transphobia they face from the media, public, and people in their personal lives.
They have done so to great results, from smashing records in NCAA Division I sports to winning Olympic gold medals — and inspiring the next generation of trans athletes in the process.
Here are 10 transgender athletes to watch, today.
Timothy LeDuc became the first openly nonbinary person to compete at the Winter Olympics in 2022 when they placed eighth in pairs figure skating with their partner Ashley Cain-Gribble.
This isn’t LeDuc’s first “first.” In 2019, they became the first openly queer person to win gold in pairs skating at the U.S. Championship. Together, LeDuc and Cain-Gribble have won two U.S. championships and medaled in the Grand Prix Series three times.
LeDuc has spoken out about resisting the cis-normativity and heteronormativity historically seen and expected in pairs skating, for example, by not portraying a romantic couple in their skating routines with Cain-Gribble.
New Zealander Laurel Hubbard made her Olympic debut in weightlifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics. She was the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympics and the first openly trans athlete to compete at an individual event in the Summer Olympics.
Her inclusion in the women’s +87kg group was controversial, throwing her in the spotlight, despite three other trans athletes competing in the 2020 Summer Games. Ultimately, Hubbard did not earn a spot on the podium, and her official result was “did not finish” after she was unable to complete a clean lift in the snatch section of the competition.
Hubbard’s weightlifting career has long been notable. Before her transition, she set a men’s national junior record, but she left the sport in her 20s because it was “too much to bear” as she figured out her identity.
After a 15-year break from the sport, Hubbard returned to set a women’s Oceania record at the 2017 North Island Games, then a gold at the Australian Championships and a silver at the World Championships.
In 2018, Hubbard suffered a nearly career-ending injury: a ruptured ligament in her arm. However, she continued competing in 2019, winning two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games, then lifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics at age 43 — 10 years older than the next oldest competitor in her group.
Chris Mosier, a trans man, became the first transgender athlete to represent the United States in an international competition after earning a spot at the men’s sprint duathlon in 2015. Mosier is a hall of fame triathlete, All-American duathlete, two-time National Champion, and he has made Team USA six times.
Mosier is also a powerful advocate for transgender athletes. He is credited with prompting the International Olympic Committee to change their rules in 2016 to be more inclusive of trans competitors, leaving no restrictions for trans men to compete with other men and dropping the requirement that trans women undergo genital surgery.
Mosier runs transathlete.com, through which he provides information about competing in sports as a trans person, including competition policies at various levels in various sports.
A nonbinary person who goes only by one name, Quinnbecame the first transgender person to win a gold medal at the Olympics in the 2020 Summer Games with the Canadian women’s soccer team.
Quinn, who plays both a central defender and a midfielder, had previously competed in the 2019 World Cup and won bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games, but they hadn’t yet come out at that time.
Chelsea Wolfe, a trans woman, is the third-ranked BMX freestyler in the United States. She earned a spot as an alternate for the women’s competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics — the first time the sport was included in the Olympic Games — by winning fifth place at the World Championships in 2021.
Wolfe didn’t get to compete at the Olympics, but she did become the first out trans person to make Team USA. She had just started to compete nationally in 2016 when it was announced that the sport would be added to the 2020 Olympics.
Nonbinary athlete Alana Smith competed in the inaugural women’s street skateboarding event at the 2020 Summer Olympics. They came out shortly before the Summer Games, wanting to enter the competition as their full authentic self.
Smith has also competed at four World Championships and won the bronze medal in 2015. They’ve been a big name in skateboarding since they were just 12 years old, when they won silver at the 2013 X Games.
Layshia Clarendon, a guard for the Minnesota Lynx who uses all pronouns, is the first openly transgender and nonbinary player to compete in the WNBA. They won a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, and Clarendon won the WNBA Community Assist Award in 2021 for her advocacy work for Black and brown youth and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Clarendon previously played for the University of California, Berkeley, and he finished his college career as the fourth highest scorer in Cal’s history, earning 1,820 points across four seasons.
Kye Allums became the first openly trans person to compete in an NCAA Division I sport when he came out as a trans man while playing basketball for the George Washington University’s women’s team in 2010.
Allums, a guard, played a total of three seasons, ending his college basketball career in 2011 after a string of concussions. In 2015, he was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Allums is a public speaker and mentor to LGBTQIA+ youth, and he was featured in “The T Word,” a documentary by Laverne Cox about living as a young trans person.
Schuyler Bailar, a trans man, was the first openly trans NCAA Division I athlete to compete on a men’s team. He swam for Harvard’s men’s team for four seasons before graduating in 2019, and his last swim placed him in the top 15 percent of NCAA competitors in his event.
Bailar had an impressive career before college, too, competing in the Junior Olympics at age 10 and ranking in the top 20 for 15-year-old breaststroke swimmers in the United States.
He is an international speaker and advocate who posts on social media about body image, racism, and, of course, transgender inclusion in sports.
“People are attacking trans kids,” he says about the recent wave of bills banning transgender children from sports. “It doesn’t even matter whether or not they have these competitive differences or whatever; these are kids.
“I think people forget that, and they dehumanize and adultify these children as if they’re these threats to women’s sport, but they’re not. They’re just kids. Just kids who want to play soccer. They’re just kids who want to run around the track.”
A senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Lia Thomas, a trans woman and NCAA Division I freestyle swimmer, holds the fastest women’s times of the 2022 season in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events. In March, she competed at the NCAA championships in these and the 1,650-yard event.
Thomas swam on Penn’s men’s team for 2 years before coming out and getting approved by the NCAA to compete with women during summer 2020. However, the following season was canceled due to the pandemic, so this season is her first time competing against women.
Because she has excelled in swimming, Thomas has come under fire, prompting the NCAA to change their rules about trans women’s eligibility in all sports.
Although 16 members of Penn’s team wrote a letter stating that it’s unfair for Thomas to compete as a woman, 310 current and former NCAA, Team USA, and international swimmers and divers recently signed a letter in support of her.
At the NCAA championships, Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle event, making her the first out trans woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. She also finished fifth in the 200-yard finals and eighth in the 100-yard event.
There isn’t much to indicate anything other than a typical college swim meet is taking place this week at Harvard University’s Blodgett Pool.
No demonstrations or protests outside the building. But there is evidence of the discussion surrounding the sport during the past year.
An “8 Against Hate” sign is displayed above the pool between flags representing each of the schools competing in the Ivy League women’s swimming championship. Athletes from several schools also wore shirts featuring the statement.
There’s also the public address announcement made before every session that reminds spectators the conference is committed to putting on an event “free of racist, homophobic or transphobic discrimination.”
For Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig, it’s an example of the environment that has surrounded both for more than a year as they’ve sought to showcase their talents and compete at the sport’s highest level.
Their personal journeys and participation in the Ivy championships are the latest in an ongoing national conversation about the rules that govern the participation of transgender athletes in college athletics.
Both Thomas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, and Henig, a junior at Yale University, are transgender.
Thomas is a transgender woman and former male swimmer for the Quakers, and has followed the NCAA and Ivy League’s rules since she began her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy. Henig is swimming for Yale’s women’s team while transitioning to male, and he competes in some of the same events as Thomas.
Thomas has been a star this season, entering this week’s championship as the top qualifier in the 200-, 500- and 1,650-meter freestyle events. Some of her wins this season have been by wide margins, including in Thursday’s 500-meter freestyle final, which she won by half a pool length and set a new pool record in a time of 4:37.32.
It’s prompted some — purportedly on her own team — to question whether she has an advantage since she was born as a biological male.
At Penn’s final home swim meet of the season, protesters who opposed her participation yelled things like, “Stand up for women! Even when they’re swimming! Men cannot be women!”
But Thomas has also been beaten by Henig, who won a meeting last month in the 100-meter freestyle. Thomas finished sixth. They have a chance to go head-to-head again on Friday; Henig and Thomas are the top two qualifiers in the 100 freestyle.
Henig won Friday’s 50-meter freestyle final in a pool-record time of 21.93 and qualified fifth in the 200 freestyle.
Several states either have or are considering laws that would keep transgender girls and college-age women from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity. South Dakota’s governor signed a law that’s set to take effect July 1 to do just that, and Utah is considering creating a state commission to make decisions about transgender student-athletes participating in youth sports.
Ever-shifting requirements for transgender athletes at the NCAA and college levels briefly left Thomas’ participation in the Ivy championships and next month’s NCAA championships in doubt.
Last month, the NCAA said it would defer to the rules of each sport’s governing body to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes. On Feb. 1, USA Swimming released an update to its policies, requiring transgender women competing at the elite level to have small levels of testosterone — half the previous level Thomas was allowed to compete under — for 36 months before being eligible.
But citing “potentially detrimental impacts to schools and student-athletes,” the NCAA said in a statement last week that it wouldn’t alter the previously approved testosterone threshold for transgender women to compete at this year’s championships. It cleared the way for Thomas to be in the pool this week and next month.
Thomas and Penn coach Mike Schnur declined an interview request through an Ivy League official. Yale’s swim team and coaching staff won’t be conducting media interviews during this week’s championship, the same official said.
But in an interview prior to the NCAA’s policy change, Henigtold The Associated Press that the constant changes in policies were unwarranted.
“At every level, from elementary to collegiate, trans athletes have been competing for years — and the extremely negative predictions about what will happen to sports have already been shown to be false,” he said. “In every sport, at every level, there is a wide range of athletic abilities on display. Trans athletes are no different and don’t change this.”
Thomas’ only public interview this season was in December on the SwimSwam podcast. She said that she’s starting to find peace after feeling “trapped” in a man’s body for years prior to starting her transition.
“I’m feeling confident and good in my swimming and all my personal relationships,” she said, “and transitioning has allowed me to be more confident in all of those aspects of my life where I was struggling a lot before I came out.”
The path for Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to compete in the NCAA championships next month seems to be clear after the NCAA announced Thursday that it would not adopt a new USA Swimming policy for the winter championships.
The decision followed a recommendation from the administrative subcommittee of the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) to the NCAA board of governors.ADVERTISEMENT
“The subcommittee decided implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships,” the NCAA said in a statement.
Penn said it would continue to work with the NCAA regarding Thomas’ eligibility for the event.
The rules governing transgender athletes’ participation on the collegiate level have been murky since Jan. 19, when the NCAA announced a policy change. Revising a policy from 2010, which applied across all sports, the NCAA opted to adopt each sport’s national governing body policy, allowing for different policies across sports.
But for the upcoming winter and spring championships, the NCAA stated that athletes who had been in compliance with the 2010 policy need only to demonstrate a testosterone serum level below the “maximum allowable limit” for that sport within four weeks of the championship. The limit for women’s swimming had been set at 10 nanomoles per liter, the same threshold used by previous Olympic rules but double the threshold in the new USA Swimming policy.
USA Swimming announced its new rules for elite swimmers on Feb. 1. That policy includes a requirement that transgender women swimmers demonstrate they have maintained a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter continuously for at least 36 months before competition. It also requires transgender women to provide evidence that they do not have a competitive advantage from being assigned male at birth. That evidence will be reviewed by a panel of three independent medical experts.
These rules apply to events designated as “elite” by USA Swimming — such as the U.S. Open and Junior Nationals — to USA Swimming members and to those wishing to be eligible for American records beginning with the 13-14 age group.
Neither the lower testosterone threshold nor the required length of time for testosterone suppression will be used at the upcoming NCAA championships.
“I’m happy to see the NCAA acknowledge that implementing additional policy changes at this time would have unfair and detrimental impacts on student-athletes who are currently competing,” inclusion advocate and transgender athlete Chris Mosier said. “The next step is for the NCAA to establish a process for reviewing, modifying as needed, and implementing these policies by a specific date each academic year to prevent further reactionary policy changes in the future.”
Three-time swimming Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar disagreed with the decision.
“Once again, biological women’s cry for fair sports competition has gone unheard,” Hogshead-Makar said. “If you re-read the NCAA’s statement, biological women’s interests were never considered. They were never mentioned. I’m sadly aware that [cisgender] women’s exclusion from the table has been purposeful. I assure you, women are determined to rectify their sport’s eligibility criteria to be consistent with science and fairness.”
The NCAA announcement comes on the same day that more than 300 swimmers signed an open letter to the CSMAS supporting Thomas and urging the committee not to adopt the new USA Swimming transgender athlete policy ahead of the NCAA Division I championships in March.
Among the signatures were five of Thomas’ current teammates, swimmers representing each of the Power 5 conferences and Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Erica Sullivan.
“With this letter, we express our support for Lia Thomas, and all transgender college athletes, who deserve to be able to participate in safe and welcoming athletic environments,” the letter said. “We urge you to not allow political pressure to compromise the safety and wellbeing of college athletes everywhere.”
Thomas has posted some of the nation’s best times in the 200-, 500-, and 1,650-yard freestyle events this season. On Feb. 3, 16 members of Penn’s women’s swimming and diving team, along with their families, wrote to the NCAA asking the organization to adopt the new USA Swimming rules for transgender athletes.
Thomas is expected to compete in the Ivy League swimming championships next week at Harvard.
University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas continued to dominate the competition Saturday, winning two races in a meet against Ivy League rival Harvard University.
Thomas, 22, won the women’s 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle races at the meet, held just days after USA Swimming announced it will release a new policy for “elite” transgender athletes.
Thomas finished first in her 100-yard race in 50.55 seconds with her closest competitor coming in at 51.51. In the 200-yard race, she won in 1:47.08 with the second place swimmer finishing behind at 1:48.44, according to listed results.
Thomas, who previously swam for UPenn’s men’s team for three years before transitioning, made a name for herself breaking school and national records this year, prompting the NCAA to review its guidelines for transgender athletes.
Thomas has qualified to compete in March at the 2022 NCAA swimming and diving championships, where she is set to race in the women’s 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle.
The NCAA Board of Governors approved new guidelines on Wednesday that said transgender participation for each sport will be determined by the policy for the sport’s national governing body, subject to review and recommendation by an NCAA committee to the Board of Governors.
The new NCAA regulations require Thomas and transgender student-athletes to document testosterone levels, which must meet sport-specific levels, four weeks before their sport’s championship selections.
USA Swimming, swimming’s national governing body, said in a statement released on social media on Thursday that it will determine whether transgender male and female athletes can compete against those who are biologically male or female.
The organization, which oversees over 360,000 coaches, volunteers and swimmers from young age groups up to the Olympic level.
“USA Swimming firmly believes in inclusivity and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression. We also strongly believe in competitive equity, and, like many, are doing our best to learn and educate ourselves on the appropriate balance in this space,” the organization said.
Cynthia Millen, who had officiated USA Swimming meets for three decades, stepped down ahead of the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, N.C., in December after she “told my fellow officials that I can no longer participate in a sport that allows biological men to compete against women,” she said in a statement.
The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) issued a statement today calling for the NCAA “and all governing bodies” to review and update their rules about the participation of transgender student-athletes, specifically in women’s swimming.
The ASCA asked for “science and evidenced-based [sic] research” to be used in setting new rules. The coaches association noted that “The current NCAA policy regarding when transgender females can compete in the women’s category can be unfair to cisgender females and needs to be reviewed and changed in a transparent manner.”
The NCAA Board of Governors had already announced its intention to discuss its transgender participation policy at its meeting on Thursday, January 20, and that it would issue a statement shortly thereafter.
The issue of transgender athletes in women’s swimming, in particular, has come to the forefront in recent months, with Penn swimmer Lia Thomas gaining international media attention for her record-breaking swims this fall. Thomas, who swam for the Quakers’ men’s team for three years before her transition, has the nation’s top times in the 200 free (1:41.93) and 500 free (4:34.06) and is ranked sixth in the 1650 free (15:59.71).
The ASCA represents a broad spectrum of swimming coaches in the United States, not just college coaches. The organization is not typically involved in legislating the sport at the collegiate level; its activities are more centered around certification and education for its 11,000 members. Another organization, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA), represents some 2,000 member coaches and assistant coaches and advocates for the welfare of intercollegiate swimming and diving at all divisions of the NCAA, the NAIA, and the junior college associations.
As of this writing, neither the CSCAA nor USA Swimming, the governing body for the sport of swimming in the United States, have formally addressed the subject. USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said last month that Lia Thomas was not a member at the time.
A University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer who’s shattering women’s team records since her transition said she has been trying to avoid reading about the pushback surrounding her success.
“I just don’t engage with it,” Lia Thomas said on an episode of the SwimSwam podcast posted Thursday. “It’s not healthy for me to read it and engage with it at all, and so I don’t, and that’s all I’ll say on that.”
Thomas had been a member of Penn’s men’s swim team for three years before coming out as transgender in 2019, switching to the women’s team this season after ongoing hormone therapy and a year off school in 2020-21 to maintain athletic eligibility.
The swimmer told podcast host Coleman Hodges she is on an ongoing regimen of estrogen and testosterone blockers – the NCAA requires transitioning athletes take testosterone suppressors for a year. Some of the backlash was expected, she said.
“We expected there would be some measure of pushback by people,” she told Hodges in the virtual interview. “Quite the extent it’s blown up, we weren’t fully expecting — but we were expecting that.
“We expected … my speed and strength and endurance would drop significantly and would have adjusted for that.”
The episode debuted after a teammate anonymously criticized Thomas competing on the women’s team to the website OutKick. The female teammate said other women have sounded off to coach Mike Schnur about Thomas having what they feel is an unfair advantage.
“Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this,” the female swimmer told the site. “Our coach just really likes winning. He’s like most coaches. I think secretely everyone just knows it’s the wrong thing to do.”
In her interview with SwimSwam, Thomas described her feelings of uncertainty after coming out in 2019 and facing uncertainty that she’d be able to continue competitively swimming for the Ivy League school.
“My mental health was not very good,” she said of her junior year in 2019-20. “There was a lot of unease about basically feeling trapped in my body – it didn’t align.
“It was a very awkward experience of basically being a woman competing in a men’s meet,” she said. “It was uncomfortable and so I didn’t compete that much.”
Since transitioning, Thomas has set Penn records for the 200-meter freestyle, 500-meter freestyle and 1650-meter freestyle. In her 165-meter freestyle win, she beat second place finisher and teammate Anna Kalandadze by more than 38 seconds.
“I’m very proud of my times and my ability to keep swimming and continue competing and they’re suited up times and I’m happy with them and my coaches are happy with them,” Thomas said in the interview. “And that’s what matters to me.”
Thomas said her teammates and coaches treat her “like any other member of the women’s team” and have been very supportive of her during transitio]]
“I’m just thrilled to be able to continue to swim and I love to compete,” she said. “And I just love to see how fast I can go and it’s, sort of, an ongoing evolution of what I think I can go based on how my training progresses and evolves.”
The International Olympic Committee announced a new framework for transgender and intersex athletes Tuesday, dropping controversial policies that required competing athletes to undergo “medically unnecessary” procedures or treatment.
In a six-page document, the IOC outlined 10 principles, which it described as “grounded on the respect for internationally recognised human rights,” that sports competitions should follow. It also said it will no longer require athletes to undergo hormone level modifications to compete.
“This Framework recognises both the need to ensure that everyone, irrespective of their gender identity or sex variations, can practise sport in a safe, harassment-free environment that recognises and respects their needs and identities,” the committee said.
The new framework is not legally binding and was developed following an “extensive consultation” with athletes, other sports organizations and experts in the fields of human rights, law and medicine, the IOC said. It comes just three months after the Tokyo Olympics, which saw the first transgender and intersex athletes compete in the Games’ history.
Tuesday’s framework replaces guidelines the IOC released in 2015, which put a limit on athletes’ testosterone levels that required some of them to undergo treatments the IOC now describes as “medically unnecessary.” Before 2015, the IOC required athletes to undergo genital surgery.
Chris Mosier was the first out trans athlete to compete on a U.S. national team, in the 2016 world championship for the sprint duathlon, and has challenged some of the previous guidelines. Mosier applauded the release of the new framework, writing on Twitter that it “takes the next step in centering human rights as the foundation of sport.”
“The new IOC Framework makes clear that no athlete has an inherent advantage & moves away from eligibility criteria focused on testosterone levels, a practice that caused harmful & abusive practices such as invasive physical examinations & sex testing,” he wrote.
Canadian soccer gold medalist Quinn, who in July became the first openly transgender athlete to participate in the Olympics, also chimed in, calling the new framework “groundbreaking.”
“Far too often, sport policy does not reflect the lived experience of marginalized athletes, and that’s especially true when it comes to transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations,” Quinn said in a statement. “This new IOC framework is groundbreaking in the way that it reflects what we know to be true — that athletes like me and my peers participate in sports without any inherent advantage, and that our humanity deserves to be respected.”
LGBTQ advocates welcomed the IOC’s new guidelines but stressed that following the implementation process is necessary.
“As with any set of guidelines, the success of this new framework in ensuring a safe and welcoming environment within the Olympic movement will largely depend on the education and implementation process with national governing bodies, international federations, and other key stakeholders,” Anne Lieberman, the director of policy and programs at LGBTQ advocacy group Athlete Ally, said in a statement.
Some advocates argued that while the IOC’s new framework is intended for elite athletes, it bolsters their case in their fight against state bills in the United States that restrict transgender students’ participation in school sports.
“On the heels of the most anti-LGBTQ legislative session in history with the majority of bills targeting trans youth in sports, every state and lawmaker should listen to the experts from the world of sports, medicine, and athletes themselves to allow transgender youth the same opportunities to play with their friends, have fun, learn, grow, and benefit from the lasting life lessons and supportive community sports can provide,” Alex Schmider, the associate director of transgender representation at LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement.
The Vermillion School District’s school board passed a new gender equity policy Monday night after more than three hours of contentious debate from the public.
The policy allows students to use the pronoun, name and restroom they prefer which corresponds with their “consistently asserted gender,” according to the policy.
Board members opted to remove the portions of the policy regarding the use of locker rooms, shower facilities and overnight accommodations and keep policy on procedure, confidentiality, restrooms, communications and activities.
Public debate on the policy included assertions from those opposed to the new rules that the policy would disrupt their children’s innocence, but statements from proponents included that passing the policy was morally right and that similar gender-affirming policies have saved transgender children’s lives.
This policy will both foster an education environment that is safe and welcoming for all students as well as comply with local, state and federal law, the draft policy states.
It establishes and defines that gender identity is held regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth and that students have a right to keep their transgender status private at school. One’s trans identity will be confidential and staff won’t disclose it unless legally required.
Pronouns used are the choice of the student, and legal name changes aren’t required for a student to use their preferred name for class lists, activities, the yearbook, etc. However, their legal name will be indicated in a student’s official records.
All students will have access to restrooms that are safe, comfortable and convenient for them.
For activities, students can participate in the interscholastic activities for the gender with which that student consistently identifies, subject to the policies of the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
The policy doesn’t prohibit any facility in the Vermillion School District from maintaining separate toilet facilities, locker rooms or living facilities “for the different sexes” so long as comparable facilities are provided.
Rachel Gonzales has been to the Texas Capitol at least a dozen times since 2017, when she advocated against a bill that would’ve banned her then-6-year-old transgender daughter, Libby, from using the girls’ bathroom.
That bill died in 2017,but the fight hasn’t stopped. Since January, Texas has considered 52bills that target trans people, particularly youth, according to Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group in the state.
Parents like Gonzales and advocates have defeated all of the bills so far. But last week, during a third special legislative session, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would ban transgender student athletes in public schools from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity, as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.
State Sens. Bob Halland Charles Perry, both Republicans, also refiled bills last week that would ban health care providers from providing trans children with gender-affirming health care — including therapy — and that could charge parents and doctors with child abuse if they provide such care for trans children.
Gonzales said she will continue to fight the bills, but she added that she is so burnt out by the last nine months that she doesn’t feel like an effective advocate.
“I joke, but it’s not really a joke, that I have definitely lost years off my life from this battle — the amount of stress, the physical manifestation of that stress and the mental anguish,” she said. “It’s so much of negotiating my own feelings in order to assure my kid that she’s going to be OK. But it’s terrifying that I don’t know if it’s going to be OK, and not just for her, but for other kids across the state, kids who cannot safely be out.”
It’s taken a mental and physical toll on her, she said, and other parents and advocates in the state say the same. They say they won’t stop, because they’re doing it for their kids, but they need more help.
‘It takes me hours to fall asleep’
Supporters of trans athlete bans in Texas say they are trying to protect fairness in women’s sports, though — like most supporters of similar bills — they haven’t been able to provide any examples in their state of trans girls jeopardizing fairness, according to LGBTQ advocates.
Parents like Gonzales have been fighting the bills so relentlessly because they say the proposals, whether they pass or not, have a devastating effect on trans youth in the state — especially youth who help advocate against them.
Libby, Gonzales’s 11-year-old daughter who is transgender, said the anti-trans bills reintroduced by Republican state senators make her “feel really scared and like they are trying to harm me in very terrible ways.”
She first became an activist at 6 years old, when conservatives in the state tried to pass a bill that would’ve banned her from using the girls’ restroom. Libby said being an advocate is important to her because if she wasn’t, “I would be really hurt, and people wouldn’t hear me.”
“It is very tiring,” she said. “Sometimes it takes me hours to fall asleep just because I’m so scared about these specific bills.”
Rebekah Bryant, who lives in Houston and has been to the Capitol six times this year to advocate against the bills, said they’ve also affected her 8-year-old trans daughter, Sunny.
Sunny has testified against the sports bills twice,in July and August. The first time she testified, she told the Senate committee she likes baseball, soccer, tennis and gymnastics, and that none of her teammates cared that she is trans.
“I’ve been with the same classmates for three years, and none of them knew I was trans until this year,” she said. “When my mom had to speak at the Capitol, they loved me just the same, because kids my age don’t care about that stuff. Kids care about what’s in your heart.”
“Only old people can’t see that,” she added, with a smile. Committee members, including Republicans, laughed, Bryant said.
The second time she testified, Sunny didn’t step up to the podium — which was taller than her — until 1 a.m. Afterward, when she and her mom got back to their hotel room, Sunny sat down on the bed and started crying.
“She said, ‘Why do so many people not like me?’” Bryant said. “And that’s the first time she’s expressed any pain toward this. I was exhausted, and I just said to her, ‘Look, there are way more people there that love you. … There are so many more people in the world that are on your side than aren’t. Those people are the outliers.’”
She said Sunny developed anxiety afterward. Though it’s slowly gone away, Bryant hasn’t brought Sunny to the Capitol again.
Advocates say the rhetoric used in the bills has also had a negative effect on the mental health of transgender — as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer — youth statewide.
For example, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30, crisis calls from LGBTQ young people in Texas increased 150 percent compared to the same period last year, according to data shared last week by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization. About 4,000, or 36 percent of all contacts from Texas, came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
The Trevor Project added that while the volume of crisis contacts “can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill),” a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that “transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.”
The Trans Lifeline, the country’s first transgender crisis hotline, also saw a 72 percent increase in calls from Texas in May — when state lawmakers first considered about a dozen anti-trans bills — when compared to May 2020, according to data shared with NBC News. In July, when the legislation was reconsidered, Trans Lifeline saw a 19 percent increase in calls from Texas.
Adri Pèrez, policy and advocacy strategist for LGBTQ equality at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said it’s unclear whether Texas’ trans athlete ban will pass the House and become law and that its passage “shouldn’t be the focal point.”
“The larger issue, I think, is out of the state of Texas there is a lot of misinformation about transgender people and transgender youth, specifically,” Pèrez said. “The work is not necessarily inside of the Texas Legislature; it’s outside of it. And what we’re doing to help humanize trans people and trans youth to those who have never met a transgender person or a transgender kid, that would be the most effective firewall for these bills. It’s not letting that misinformation take hold at all.”
Whether someone knows a transgender person can significantly affect their views on legislation such as trans athlete bans, according a survey released Thursday by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute. A slim majority of Americans who know a transgender person (52 percent), compared to one-third of Americans who do not know anyone who is transgender (33 percent), believe that a transgender girl should be allowed to compete in high school sports with cisgender female students.
PRRI also noted that support for trans people participating in sports has declined since 2018. About one-third, or 36 percent, of Americans believe that trans girls should be allowed to participate in sports with their cisgender classmates, compared to 50 percent in 2018.
Physical, mental and financial strain
Parents who are transgender advocates say Texas’ last few legislative sessions have been particularly difficult for them, too.
Bryant said this is the first year she’s become more active, and it has taken an emotional and financial toll on her family. She said she has to take off work to travel to the Capitol, which is about a 3 1/2-hour drive away, and she often has to book a hotel room. All told, she said she’s spent close to $3,000 going back and forth to the Capitol just this year.
“It’s just so draining, because it’s not only just sitting there and waiting, but it’s sitting there and listening to people lie about you and your family — people that have never met a person who’s trans in their life and really haven’t walked the walk that all of us have,” she said.
Recently, many parents and advocates have been hitting “a wall,” said Linzy Foster, who is from Austin and has been to the Capitol about a dozen times this year to advocate on behalf of her 7-year-old trans daughter.
“The general population who usually are all on board and showing up and fighting for these things, they’re getting fatigued, and there’s also so many things to fight now,” she said. “We’re beginning to feel more and more lonely.”
Many of the advocates described being at the Capitol as traumatic. Annaleise Cothron, whose 8-year-old is nonbinary, said one day she went to the Capitol and the supporters of anti-trans bills called her child “a freak” and “disgusting.”
“While I would never tell my child that, just hearing that from somebody else is really emotionally taxing, and my child doesn’t deserve that,” she said. “People need to understand that’s the level of vitriol that we’re facing just going to the Capitol to say, ‘Please leave us alone. Please leave our community alone.’ This isn’t about politics; this is about human beings.”
More than just sports
Though the parents and advocates believe that trans kids have a right to play on the sports teams that match their gender identity, they said their advocacy is about more than just sports.
“Just the conversation of whether or not my child should exist in public school sports and whether or not other kids should bully them for who they are — that’s the conversation that this legislative body is inviting by entertaining these bills,” Cothron said.
She said the other bills that Republicans have reintroduced or plan to reintroduce that could charge her with child abuse for providing her child with access to gender-affirming care prove that the conversation is about more than fairness in sports.
“This is about the broader conversation of saying whether or not a transgender child should exist in Texas and access public services,” she said.
For now, the parents say they are leaning on each other for support.
“The only reason I’m doing OK, to be honest with you, is because in all of this I have met these amazing people in this community who show up, and we support one another,” Foster said. “We have moments of levity even in the trauma that we’re dealing with when we’re in the Capitol, being able to make each other laugh, knowing that you’re loved, knowing that you’re supported. That is the only thing that’s keeping me going.”