Pictured above: Soccer. From http://www.girlshealth.gov/fitness/started/challenges.html
Sports can often teach character traits outside the classroom: good sportsmanship, being a gracious loser and a humble winner, and the importance of fairness and contributing to a team. Participating in sports can be a powerful way to hone physical agility, mental resiliency, and personal identity. For kids, it’s a way to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and the endless potential that can be unearthed when goal-focused individuals come together and execute a winning plan.
There is no ‘I’ in Team, but there is a ‘T’!
Let’s acknowledge, too, that sports have often been divisive and disheartening. Black athletes across the board have generally had to break some form of “color barrier” in their respective sport. Women, too, have often been left on the sidelines. As athletes of color and women continue to navigate the racist and sexist systems in place, they slowly make progress toward equality.
The fight for equality often leaves the field for legal proceedings and public opinion. The clearest example of an actual struggle for progress in women’s sports is the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team’s legal fight to obtain equal pay and better working conditions. As our World Cup champions fight for fair compensation, a different inclusion barrier is being beaten down by another cadre of athletes: transgender athletes.
The unifying power of sport is lost on some, and now career politicians in Arizona are targeting children for political gain. Some would have you believe that women’s sports are vulnerable and need “saving” — not from inequity in pay or sexist stereotypes, but from transgender girls and women. Luckily for women’s sports, the savior they didn’t need or ask for, Rep. Nancy Barto, has come to the rescue with HB 2706, which only allows “biological girls” to participate on girls’ teams in interscholastic sports.
Under this bill, female athletes would have to “prove” their gender. This feat is accomplished in myriad ways: chromosomal testing, physical examinations, and further tests to prove one’s “femaleness” to compete. Any parent with a child in sports knows that most of the sports-related drama is not with the youth athletes, but with the parents. And HB 2706 would give these parents plenty of ways to stir up drama — and inflict trauma.
Transgender children are those kids who identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Studies, medical guidelines, and professional testaments have shown affirmative care for transgender individuals greatly improves quality of life, increases mental health, and decreases suicide risk.
Athletic organizations and sport governing boards have clear, established guidelines in place for transgender athletes and allows for their participation in sports consistent with their gender identity, but HB 2706 goes against these best practices and harms vulnerable girls and women to advance this unnecessary proposal. Trans girls and women, especially women of color, are at the highest risk of encountering violence, abuse, homelessness, addiction, and unemployment, and are present at so many of the intersections we’re all fighting to lift up. We need to break apart the systematic cogs that create binaries, not write them into law.
This bill is cruel at its core, and targets the mental health and well-being of Arizona’s children. Let’s look at what HB 2706 really does:
- Targets children
- Targets transgender children
- Targets fanatical voters in the Glendale area for Nancy Barto’s primary
First, HB 2706 targets high-school-age children (14 to 18 years old). Remember what it was like to be in high school, trying to fit in and just survive another day? I do. I was a 14-year-old freshman in a high school that had fewer than 400 students — there were 50 students in my graduating class in Smalltown, USA. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter, but we did have hazing and initiation rituals perpetrated upon the freshman class by the seniors (in this case, the Class of 1988). The fact that I survived that initial year, in hindsight, is a testament to my ability to get along using self-deprecating humor and psychological flexibility. It was hard enough to be a closeted queer kid in Smalltown, USA, in 1988 (i.e., before the internet was more than AOL). A law like Rep. Barto’s HB 2706 wouldn’t have improved my situation one bit.
Second, this bill targets transgender kids. Back in the day, we didn’t have all the lingo or letters we do now: LGBTQ, pansexual, gender expansive. Our options were more limited: One could be straight, run away to the city and be gay, or be dead. Luckily, times have changed, and even in the small reaches of rural towns, resources can be found on the interwebs. But we also know that kids who identify as transgender, queer, or non-binary report the highest risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and death by suicide. Back to Nancy Barto’s bill, which targets transgender kids ages 14 to 18, the highest-risk group for suicide in children. If faced with accepting their trans kid or burying their dead kid, I would hope families would choose life.
Short of suicide, the toxic environment transgender students experience at school can limit their full educational experience. Recently, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 54% of students perceived as transgender endure verbal harassment from students
and staff at school; 24% of transgender students report being physically attacked. Denying trans kids a place on the team could just add to the alienation they already experience — when they could be making positive connections with their classmates instead.
Finally, Rep. Barto depends on HB 2706 to keep her political power — which she would be doing on the backs of transgender kids and their families. Nancy Barto has a record of twisting the language of social justice to serve her own regressive ends, such as when she’s taken up the righteous cause of LGBTQ discrimination in the name of “religious freedom,” or spearheaded legislation that would restrict abortion access, cloaked in feigned worry about the health and safety of abortion patients. For an elected official so entrenched against abortion patients accessing care — and allegedly promoting adoption — it seems strange that she would make adoption more difficult by killing the most recent effort to remove the statutory preference for married heterosexual couples in adoption cases. But Nancy Barto is quoted as saying, “Until the social science indicates otherwise, a man and a woman, a mother and father, are the best place for a child to be raised.”
It’s no coincidence that Rep. Barto is running against the sitting senator from her own party in the Republican primary for the senate seat in the 15th Legislative District on August 4, 2020. She needs to rile up her base, collect donations, and turn out more of her fanatical people in order to win the Republican primary. And to do that, she’s introduced abortion legislation, trans athlete bans, and other controversial and intentionally divisive issues just to get elected.
Fear and loathing in District 15 is a strategy for 2020 — or have voters suffered extremism fatigue and started yearning to take a deep breath of democracy? Trans kids should be and need to be protected. Part of that protection is through inclusive education. Transgender health, including gender non-specific sex education, should be taught in school. School should be a place where it’s OK to take risks, realize where the destination is, and help envision the path to get there. And whether that includes drama club, honor society, sports, or chess, the goal should be to graduate skilled and curious people who can think critically for themselves.
Inclusion of trans youth in activities that are consistent with their gender identity saves lives. That is the hope and promise of sports, right? To gather folks — who perhaps would otherwise not associate with one another — and compete in contests that highlight physical, mental, and emotional strength and agility?
Sports can teach us a lot about humanity — good and bad. It’s time for this cruel bill, HB 2706, to be benched.
The bill is headed to the floor on Thursday — tomorrow! Call Nancy Barto at 602-926-5766 and ask her to bench HB 2706!
Suggested script: Hello, this message is for Rep. Barto regarding House Bill 2706, which would ban transgender athletes. There are already established guidelines that vet transgender athletes to determine eligibility. I’m asking as a constituent (if you are one) that she pull this bill from consideration. Thank you!
If you or someone you know might be in distress, please use these lifelines, as well as Arizona-based resources:
- one-n-ten: Arizona-based LGBTQ youth organization
- GLSEN Phoenix: school-based resources
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8355
- The Trevor Project: crisis line for younger LGBTQ people, 866-488-7386