The Hatred and Fear at the Root of Anti-Trans Legislation Is Becoming Ever More Overt

The Hatred and Fear at the Root of Anti-Trans Legislation Is Becoming Ever More Overt

This past February, Juwan J. Holmes of LGBTQ Nation reported that Georgia was considering a piece of anti-trans legislation that would ban transgender girls from participating in school sports. This bill — House Bill 372 — would redefine gender as “a person’s biological sex at birth,” require state-funded schools and associations to ban student-athletes from participation in school sports if they were not “biologically” male or female, and would empower a panel of physicians to examine the reproductive organs and genetic makeup of anyone who pushed back against the rule.

The proposed bill is still in committee but — abhorrent as it is — it’s far from the only one of its kind. In fact, its existence makes Georgia the seventeenth state in the nation to consider such a bill.

Trans Women in Sports As the Newest Scapegoat

Since reading Holmes’s reporting in February, I’ve been seeing coverage of similar legislative battles popping up all over the country. Groups like Save Women’s Sports, for one — created by amateur powerlifter Beth Stelzer — argue that trans athletes carry an unfair biological advantage. “If biological men are allowed to compete in women’s sports,” said Stelzer, “there will be men’s sports, there will be co-ed sports, but there will no longer be women’s sports.”

And professional athletes like tennis star Martina Navratilova back up this message, claiming to have lost competitions they would have otherwise won. “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women,” tweeted out Navratilova. “There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.”

There have been plenty of stories and statistics to counter this argument. In a brilliantly reported piece by Esther Wang for Jezebel, former high school runners Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller revealed the lie in the argument against trans athletes, sharing how they trained just as hard to place in certain races, and pointing out that coverage of them rarely focused on the races they lost. And a 41-page report released by the Center for American Progress (CAP) argues that banning the trans community from sports deprives this already vulnerable group of the various health benefits of athletics, including lower risks of anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts. It further points out that trans-inclusive sports policies don’t harm cisgender youth.

But while the fight rages on, with some continuing to insist that trans girls and women are a threat to gender equity in sports, Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, says the moral panic around the issue has always been a red herring. Rather, he explained to Wang, it’s the latest line of attack from conservative Christians still licking their wounds after their 2015 loss in the fight against marriage equality. After that loss, conservatives began to push anti-trans legislation like “bathroom bills,” framing them as an essential means of protecting women and girls from predatory men. When those failed, said Strangio, “Our opponents started to shift very strategically to the areas of sports and healthcare for trans youth.”

Meanwhile, Strangio told NBC News, “No one is introducing legislation to increase funding to women’s sports or to ensure equal pay for female coaches.”

This Push to Pass Anti-Trans Legislation Has Been Relentless

If you take a look at the legislative tracker on the Freedom for All Americans website, there are currently 50 pieces of anti-trans legislation being considered across 33 states, many of which ban trans folks’ ability to play in sports or receive gender-affirming care. And in fact, a bill that does the latter — a bill Strangio has referred to as the most extreme anti-trans law to date — just passed in Arkansas.

HB1570 — the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act — denies transgender youth access to essential gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and hormones. While, for a moment, it looked as if the bill would be struck down (thanks to the work of trans activists, which led to a veto from Governor Asa Hutchinson), in the end, both the Arkansas House and Senate voted to override the governor’s decision.

Proponents of the bill, and of similar pieces of anti-trans legislation, have described gender-affirming treatments as “at best experimental and at worst a serious threat to a child’s welfare.”

But Raquel Willis, a Black trans activist and writer, says the threats to children are greater when these treatments are withheld.

“Affirming health care can literally be life or death for anyone but particularly for trans youth,” Willis told CNN. “People think that’s an exaggeration. It’s not.”

And yet these bills are multiplying. “This has been a significant part of my work at the ACLU for the past six years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Strangio told CNN. “There have never been this many bills targeting trans youth voted out of committee and then making it to the floor.”

On April 12, Strangio live-tweeted a hearing for a bill in Texas, SB1646, that would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors, and that would remove trans kids from their homes if their parents affirmed their gender. “Right now this man is testifying in #txlege claiming that trans kids are emotionally blackmailing their parents and doctors, claiming that no one has ever died by suicide due to lack of affirming care, and instructing lawmakers not to listen to trans kids,” Strangio tweeted.

The day before, Strangio posted a how-to on Instagram for folks who might feel inclined to speak out against a law in West Virginia, HB3293, that would single out and ban trans kids from sports.

The onslaught is relentless and the fight is exhausting and trans activists aren’t able to take a breath.

Visibility Is Not Enough

But as Strangio and Willis wrote for the Nation in honor of the annual Trans Day of Visibility (March 31), and in support of a brand new Trans Week of Visibility and Action, visibility is not enough.

“[V]isibility alone has been no match for the tide of anti-trans legislation introduced over the past three months,” they wrote.

“We know the fight against these bills sounds daunting, but the discriminatory legislation doesn’t have to be inevitable,” they continued. “Last year, many Americans leaned into the power of political action by taking to the streets in the aftermath of George Floyd’s and Tony McDade’s police killings or by organizing voter turnout. We knew that we couldn’t rest in the fight for our rights and our lives. This is why we’re encouraging our community and allies to contact lawmakers and demand they end these assaults on trans youth.”

Their call to action lists out some of the groups mobilizing to fight anti-trans legislation, such as inTRANSitive, Transformation Project Advocacy Network, and TKO Society. There are also national groups you can support, such as the Transgender Law Center, Trans Lifeline, and GLSEN.

For more ideas of how you can take action in support of trans folk, and in opposition to anti-trans legislation, check out this list of 52 Things You Can Do for Transgender Equality, from the National Center for Transgender Equality. And take a look at the resources Nina shared in her recent Educate & Activate post on trans exclusionary radical feminists, genital checks, and general transphobia. And like, read about the actual trans experience in books like those recommended by Claudia here and here.

We can all do better with this.

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more literary work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, Southwest Review, and other publications. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. She is the founder of Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.


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