The West Virginia House of Delegates played a schoolyard bully this week, showing just how cruel its members could be by targeting transgender youth in a cultural crusade to force them off the playing field and back into the proverbial closet.
On its crooked, self-righteous and discriminatory path of working against the best interests of all public school children, damaging the machinery of a more just system of governance for those in the minority who just happen to be among the most vulnerable, the House passed a bill that would prevent transgender high school athletes from playing on teams other than those representing their birth gender.
Trans athleticism is a far more complicated issue than what this political body has the time or capacity to consider, so the quick and mindless alternative, apparently, is to ban “them” from participation.
At the heart of the issue, of course, is an assumption that male bodies are born with an innate biological athletic superiority. Anyone born male, this thinking goes, is better at sports than anyone born female. This assumption of male superiority, as with so many other trans issues, is a gross overgeneralization, especially after a body undergoes years of hormone therapy.
Perhaps House members have not been paying attention, or bothered to ask, but trans athletes have been allowed in girls’ high school and women’s college sports for years and no school has had to make a “co-ed team.” Meanwhile, science has found that trans girls who hormonally transition at younger ages do not necessarily have a “biological advantage” athletically.
What Republicans are cooking up is scare-mongering, plain and simple, and only seeks to reinforce mean and ugly stereotypes to the lazy and uninformed. It is yet another attack on members of the LGTBQ community – members of our own communities – threatening not just their school life but also their relationships with parents, family and classmates.
Sports – being part of a team – is a normal part of a kid’s socialization. Athletic participation, studies show, provides myriad positive effects for children, from reduced rates of depression to positive physical health outcomes to better grades in school.
Perhaps most importantly, school sports – no matter at what level – are a common space for community-building. Small towns turn out at the local gym in winter or at the football field in the fall to see their teams in action, cheer for the home team, socialize and build a common identity. Excluding trans children from these spaces sends a definitive message to all that they do not belong.
And that is cruel and beneath the dignity of any society worth a damn.
Let it be said, here and now, that while there are no known trans athletes participating today in any school-sponsored program in this state, in any gymnasium, in any locker room, in any school, know that the day is coming. And when it does, we will be judged by how we handle ourselves, as a community, when that trans child simply and innocently enough asks to sign up for a sport he or she has long aspired to play.
Just like his or her friends.
And when that time comes, remember this: Sixteen other states and the NCAA allow transgender kids to fully participate in school sports without any issue. School sports are important. They teach our kids the value of discipline, teamwork, self-confidence and other essential life skills. No child should be denied that opportunity and no legislative body should be passing laws that put those kids on the sidelines – or back in their closet.