“I played sports every year until I turned 14, which is the year I came out as Transgender. No one told me I couldn’t play sports anymore but I felt like if I did I would be treated poorly. I miss being a part of a team, but if I joined one now I know I would be looked down on.”
When a trans youth I know told me this, there was nothing I could say that would change this reality. As parents, we want our children (including the nearly 2% of high schoolers that identify as transgender) to be confident in themselves, have equal opportunities, and most importantly, feel loved and a sense of belonging.
Youth that have the opportunity to play sports enjoy benefits like higher self-esteem, fewer depressive symptoms and decreased risk of suicidality. And this is important because a Trevor Project study of trans youth tells us that more than 50% felt sad or hopeless for more than two weeks out of the last year (compared to 30% of non-trans youth) and nearly 1/3 had attempted suicide in the last year.ii Being transgender does not cause depression and suicidal ideation. Rather, studies have shown that trans youth that are supported have similar mental health outcomes to non-trans youth. So really it’s how supportive (or oppressive) their families and communities are that makes a difference.
These aren’t just statistics though. These are real kids living in our communities, including my young friend. Their health, well-being, and lives should matter enough for all of us to look hard at some of the myths being perpetuated about trans youth in sports.
The main argument people use to keep them out of athletics is that they have an unfair advantage. But there are lots of ways that various students have advantages in sports: longer legs, higher levels of certain hormones, families that can afford private coaching, etc.
And simply focusing on a person’s physical performance doesn’t take into account the reality of life for trans youth. Compared to cisgender youth, trans youth are:
· 5 times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school (24% each year)
· 3 times more likely to experience sexual violence (31% each year)
· 4 ½ times more likely to feel unsafe going to school (27% each year)iv
It should come as no surprise that this translates into significantly higher drop-out rates for trans youth since school is not always safe. Trans youth have to overcome these obstacles before they can even consider joining a sports team!
Another popular argument is that we need to protect girls and women by banning transgender athletes from teams and competition. I believe it is time that we, as a society, stop “doing things in the best interest of women” and instead ask female-identifying athletes how they feel about legislation that bans their friends from their sports teams. To this point, nearly 50 Montana women, mostly collegiate and/or professional athletes, signed a letter opposing the “Save Women’s Sports Act” proposed in the Montana Legislature this session, which would ban trans athletes from competing on the sports team that aligns with their gender.
Their letter says, “As female athletes, we are horrified that the Montana legislature is trying to use us as an excuse for spreading hate. Women before us had to fight tooth and nail for the opportunity to compete in sport, and that fight isn’t over. All our lives, we’ve radically demanded equity by running, skiing, and playing in a system that wasn’t made for us. We stand with our transgender peers who are trying to do the same.”
Banning trans students from competing in athletics based on their gender only reinforces that their communities sees them as outcasts, not worthy of protection, support or affirmation. But they are not outcasts. They are our kids, our family members, our friends, just growing up and trying to find their place in the world. And our kids’ basic humanity should never be debated or decided by strangers in a state legislature. All Montana kids deserve an equal chance to do great things with their lives, both on and off the field!
Written by Cami Armijo-Grover. Cami is the Education Director at Bridgercare, the Title X Family Planning Clinic in Bozeman, MT. She leads trainings for healthcare providers on how to provide affirming healthcare to LGBTQ+ patients and dreams of a world where everyone (youth and adults) can be their true, beautiful selves, free of discrimination and fear.