(Photo by cottonbro from Pexels)
Trans women are women. Trans women athletes are women athletes. Embracing any less than this undervalues the beauty, diversity, and strength of what women can accomplish together in sport.
But across the United States, support for trans women and children is reaching a critical point, and in no place is this more palpable than in women’s and youth sports. Online hate and abuse for transgender women and children is seeing a dangerous uptick, and sport is fast becoming a battleground for maintaining transgender protections in an already-marginalized sector of the industry.
Nationally, bills like the one being brought forth in the PA House of Representatives by State Reps. Barb Gleim (R., Cumberland), Dawn Keefer (R., York), Valerie Gaydos (R., Allegheny), Stephanie Borowicz (R., Clinton), and Martina White (R., Philadelphia) are using pseudo-feminist rhetoric to introduce what is indisputably discriminatory policy.
It’s important to note that women’s sports are not asking for these policy changes.
It’s important to note that women’s sports are not asking for these policy changes. I should know because I run one.
As the executive director for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body for the sport roller derby, I want to convey clearly that we do not need less diversity in women’s sports to grow and succeed in athletics, we need more. We do not need “protecting,” we need investment and resources.
So, where is this policy drive coming from? To put it bluntly, anti-trans legislation is coming from organizations managed by conservative agendas (read: white, patriarchal agendas) including state legislatures like ours in the Commonwealth.
Organizations like World Rugby began erasing the rights of transgender women in October after sharing discriminatory participation guidelines for women in draft form with the sports community in July 2020.
International Gay Rugby, in concert with thousands of global rugby community members, shared a 230-page rebuttal to the ban backed with scientific data, testimonials from athletes, and policy ideas from around the globe. Despite significant push-back, World Rugby has ignored its community, and this is incredibly damaging to both the athletes and the sport they love.
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In December, Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Markwayne Mullins attempted to push the “Protect Womens Sports Act of 2020,” legislation that equated to erasure of transgender women under Title IX protections.
Since then, nearly 40 bills have been introduced at the state level to eliminate transgender protections in sport and elsewhere; and now, a handful of conservative women in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are pushing the same discriminatory policies, insisting that trans women and girls represent a “risk” to cisgender women and girls.
Trans women are too aggressive, they argue. Too rough, or just too good for cis women to compete against. As though being a trans woman or girl is an unfair advantage in sport.
This type of policy is racist and marginalizing for women of all backgrounds.
Not only is this not true, this type of policy is racist and marginalizing for women of all backgrounds. At its core, this framework demeans cisgender women, too, by depicting them as fraglie objects meant to be coddled. And this keeps us right where white supremacy culture wants us.
The real shame is the smoke and mirrors around this policy that distracts from the real issue at hand: Women’s sports need media coverage, investment, and resources. Not gender policing. The lack of NCAA tournament production funding for women’s sports is just one recent example of how women are treated as less-than in sport; anti-trans legislation distracts us from addressing these inequities.
WFTDA roller derby has worked hard to model safety and inclusion at the amateur level because we’ve seen firsthand the harm that’s been done through marginalization.
Our 2011 gender policy was similar to the NCAA’s current policy, and required trans women to be able to provide medical evidence of their gender. This created tremendous harm across the sport that we continue working to repair a decade later.
In 2015, the WFTDA changed our policy to allow all women-identifying, nonbinary, and gender expansive participants to compete in our pathways.
The WFTDA has seen no evidence of increased risk of injury from welcoming transgender women into our contact sport.
We know safety: The WFTDA manages our own accident medical insurance policies, and our standards for use include some of the strictest risk management practices in any contact sport. The WFTDA has seen no evidence of increased risk of injury from welcoming transgender women into our contact sport.
Ultimately, my plea to our PA legislators considering these measures is this: Don’t fall for it.
Anti-transgender policy distracts from the real equity gaps and weaponizes women’s issues under the guise of “protections,” when its true goal is continued oppression of all women.
This legislation is not what women’s and youth sports need, and not at all what we’re asking for.-30-
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