OPINION: Transgender Athlete Bill Overreaches To ‘Protect’



The debate over the participation of transgender athletes in youth sports was reignited last week, as Republican lawmakers introduced the so-called “Protecting Women in Sports Act” in the form of two bills in the Wisconsin State Legislature.

According to an Associated Press report, more than a dozen other states are considering similar legislation, that in Wisconsin’s case would effectively ban those listed as male on their birth certificate from participating in girls’ and women’s sports from kindergarten through college.

Though data is difficult to collect on the subject, the studies that do exist would suggest this is a “solution” for a “problem” with little basis in fact or frequency. The rate of ninth and 11th grade teens who are transgender or gender nonconforming is three percent according to a 2016 survey of 81,000 Minnesota teens. A 2017 study conducted by UCLA on 13 to 17-year-olds postulated that the nationwide number of transgender teens, based on available data on transgender adults, was 150,000. Cut that number roughly in half based on youth sports participation rates among teens, and you have a decent estimate of 75,000 transgender athletes competing in high school sports nationwide. That does not even account for factors that would mitigate this estimate more accurately, and we are already down to 1,500 per state on average. Airiana Lynch, a high school sophomore who joined the bill introduction in the Wisconsin State Legislature last week, admitted she had never faced a transgender competitor.

But it is not about the prevalence of the issue to hear proponents of the bills say it, because a transgender female taking any spot that rightfully belongs to someone born biologically female is wrong. Whether that spot is on the bench of a third grade soccer team, or a  seventh place in high school cross country race. Why did I not say starting forward for the soccer team and first place in the cross country race? Because the reality is that transgender athletes are not sweeping athletic competitions across the state, country or world. While there are biological advantages to being male that anyone who has read boys and girls track or cross country results could identify, that does not mean that every man ever born is faster, stronger or more athletic than every woman ever born.

The argument that a top-tier male Wisconsin athlete could manipulate their way into a gender dysmorphia diagnosis, take one year of medically documented testosterone suppression therapy as mandated already by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) and proceed to rewrite the state record book before transitioning back to living as male is beyond ridiculous.

The WIAA also requires letters from parents, friends, teachers or others who can affirm the actions, attitudes, dress and manner are consistent with the student’s gender identification, as well as written verification from an appropriate healthcare professional also affirming the same.

Even then, the school district or WIAA can deny the request to compete with a gender not matching that which appears on a student’s birth certificate.

An athlete could go to all these lengths and still not achieve their desired advantage, as a study of eight transgender female runners by Joanna Harper of the Providence Portland Medical Center found in 2015. Her study noted that seven of the eight experienced slower race times, even when accounting for age discrepancies from before and after their transition. The eighth, as she noted in the study, went from running as a male recreational runner at 19 to upping her training load and losing weight years later as a female.

While their efficacy in solving a debatably-existent youth athletics fraud issue is questionable, this variety of legislation does cause very real problems for transgender athletes. Sports participation has been linked in a variety of studies to higher grades and self-esteem among youth participants. Removing an opportunity for transgender youth to feel a sense of belonging and purpose by competing with those who share their gender identity is a needless aggression on an already marginalized group.

An American Academy of Pediatrics study from 2018 found that more than half of transgender male teen participants and 29.9 percent of transgender female teen participants had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Those participants identifying as non-binary reported a 41.8 percent rate of a suicide attempt.

Leveling the playing field should not leave anyone on the sidelines.

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