Unsporting Behavior: The Florida Bans on School Sports for Transgender Students
The U.S. state of Florida passed a bill in April, banning transgender girls and women from participating in some high school and college sports. Not only does the ban highlight the lack of consideration American lawmakers have for LGBTQ+ youth, it has the possibility of seriously violating privacy by permitting schools to require verifications of students’ biological sex. The new bill has resurfaced the debate regarding trans women’s participation in female sports. Here is an overview of the key issues and the reasons why the involvement of LGBTQ+ individuals is essential to equal and inclusive lawmaking.
One of the most publicised supporters of the bill is Caitlyn Jenner, a former Olympic athlete who came out as a trans woman in 2015. Jenner, who is now running as a Republican candidate for the governor position in the state of California, has defended her support for the ban on the grounds of “fairness” - summing up the reasoning behind the bill.
The main argument of those who favour the ban is that it would be unfair for trans women to compete in female sports and threaten the competition. The reasoning is based on the general observation that cis-gendered men have physiological advantages over cis-gendered women, being usually stronger and faster and having more muscle-mass. It is then believed that trans women would also benefit from this physical advantage of having been born in a biologically male body - something that puts cis-gendered women at a disadvantage when competing.
There are several problems with this argument that ignore the reality of transgender individuals. A lot of the physical advantages of higher levels of testosterone in trans women’s bodies has scientifically proven to be negligible. Rachel McKinnon, a Canadian transgender cyclist and world champion, has said the process of transitioning radically changes the body, including reducing muscle mass and speed. The arguments about biology also fail to take into account the competitive advantages natural characteristics already give to athletes: being shorter or taller, weaker or stronger. These natural differences in the same categories produce different effects in sports: for instance, height differences in volleyball or different endurance levels while running. The argument also ignores all the other ways in which trans youth are disadvantaged - they suffer from significantly higher levels of bullying, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
There is no proof that participation in female sports will decrease when there is a trans woman competing - and no policy should solely be ‘based on presumptions and clear transphobia’. As Kevin Blackistone - an american sports journalist and university professor - pointed out, this anti-trans youth athlete bill had no interest in leveling an uneven field for the "protection" of cis-women, it simply ended up excluding trans girls from taking part in an important aspect of their life because they perceive trans people as a threat to cis-gender athletes.
Having lawmakers acknowledge and understand issues affecting the trans community is crucial to avoid bills such as this one getting passed. Yet having publicly trans figures, like Jenner, running for office and having legislative power isn’t always the solution - the trans community has heavily opposed her running for governor as she would falsely represent the concerns of trans individuals, like in this case. If Jenner would get the support of Republicans in California (the party she is running for), it could dangerously change the perception of trans issues by the public, as a transgender woman seems to have authority on the concerns faced by the transgender, and LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
This problematic bill highlights the way lawmaking affects LGBTQ+ youth in dangerous and exclusionary ways. Despite the support of a public figure such as Caitlyn Jenner, there is a clear threat to trans girls and women in the U.S. right now. The lack of consideration of governments for LGBTQ+ individuals needs to be stopped, and reversed.
By Triinu Jõgi and Federica Fiattini
Covert Art courtesy of Samo White - ‘I Exist Fundraiser Page’