At least 20 states ban trans women and girls from sports that match their gender

Republican lawmakers across the US are rapidly advancing legislation targeting trans youth while members of Congress introduce national bills that mirror proposals dominating state capitols

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 06 April 2023 22:39 BST
White House condemns 'one of the worst weeks' of legislation targeting LGBT+ youth

At least 20 states now ban trans athletes from joining sports that align with their gender, after Kansas lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto of legislation banning the participation of transgender women and girls from school sports, joining a wave of discriminatory legislation across the US targeting LGBT+ Americans.

On 5 April, for the third time in as many years, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature broke through Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of the bill, which bans trans girls and women from sports in kindergarten through college. It goes into effect on 1 July unless blocked by a judge.

“It breaks my heart,” the governor told reporters following the veto. “And I’m sorry that they distracted themselves with this really awful bill.”

The bill and similarly worded legislation in state legislatures across the country have been roundly condemned by LGBT+ advocates who fear that such policies will not only seek to erase trans people from public life but also lead to invasive and debilitating enforcement measures.

On 6 April, President Joe Biden’s administration proposed a significant rule change to federal antidiscrimination law that – if it survives legal challenges and a lengthy review period – could deal a blow to state-level laws and proposals targeting trans student athletes.

That proposal arrived the same day that the US Supreme Court determined that a 12-year-old transgender girl in West Virginia can continue to participate in school sports that align with her gender, marking the first time that the nation’s high court has weighed into the nationwide legislative campaign to prevent trans youth from joining school sports.

“The sports ban has never sincerely been about protecting women’s sports,” ACLU of Kansas executive director Micah Kubic said in a statement. “Rather, it arises out of the same gender discrimination, stereotyping, and paternalism that has held back progress for cisgender women athletes for centuries, and will now open up all girls and women to potentially invasive examinations just to be able to participate.”

The bill’s proponents and anti-trans activists have argued that such legislation is used to protect fairness among cisgender women and girls and trans athletes. But there are only three trans athletes in Kansas currently competing in high school sports, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

“You’re picking on three kids,” said Equality Kansas vice chair Taryn Jones. “That has to have an effect on those kids.”

“Kansas legislators have a responsibility to address the real problems facing their communities and the constituents they serve,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel with the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“However, anti-equality legislators have clearly indicated that manufacturing issues in order to sanction discrimination under the law is more important than the well-being of a marginalized group of children,” she added. “Transgender youth will now experience more shame, stigma, and isolation at an age when they’re in most need of connection with their peers.”

Anti-trans legislation and rhetoric have consumed right-wing media, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, and, increasingly, members of Congress, where lawmakers in Washington DC are mulling national bills that mirror the proposals dominating state capitols.

One bill in the House of Representatives – filed for a third time by Republican US Rep Greg Steube – would would impose national restrictions on trans athletes of all ages by amending federal civil rights laws.

The same week of the Kansas veto, North Dakota lawmakers filed 10 anti-LGBT+ bills, North Carolina Republicans filed six bills related to trans athletes, and several pieces of legislation targeting trans youth advanced in Texas, among other proposals across the US.

“This has been one of the worst weeks ... so far in terms of anti-LGBTQ bills becoming law in states across America,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on 6 April.

“This is a dangerous attack on the rights of parents to make the best healthcare decisions for their own kids,” she said. “This is awful news. LGBTQ+ kids are resilient, they are fierce, they fight back … and we have their back.”

The onslaught of legislation and volatile political debate surrounding these bills have also negatively impacted the mental health of an overwhelming majority of young trans and nonbinary people, according to recent polling from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult.

A separate survey from The Trevor Project found that 45 per cent of trans and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide over the last year.

A majority of Americans once opposed such legislation as recently as two years ago, but the politicization of trans people elevated by GOP campaigns appears to have pushed the needle in the other direction. Polling from PBS/NPR/Marist in 2021 found that 67 per cent of Americans, including 66 per cent of Republican voters, oppose bills that prohibit trans athletes from participating in sports that align with their gender.

People who know someone who is transgender are five percentage points more likely to oppose those bills, the survey found.

Kansas state Rep Heather Meyer protested a vote to override the governor’s veto of a bill banning trans women and girls from competing in school sports on 5 April. (AP)

A separate poll from the Human Rights Campaign and Hart Research Group in 2021 found that 73 per cent of voters agree that “young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”

Just one year later, polling from NPR/Ipsos found that 63 per cent of Americans are opposed to allowing trans women and girls compete on teams that align with their gender identity. Another survey from The Washington Post and University of Maryland in 2022 found that 55 per cent of Americans opposed allowing trans women and girls to compete with cisgender women and girls in high school sports, and 58 per cent when it comes to college and professional sports.

The legislation also is widely panned among advocacy groups for trans athletes and women’s sports.

In 2021, nearly 550 collegiate athletes signed a letter demanding that the NCAA stop holding events in states that have passed or are considering passing laws that effectively ban trans athletes from participating in sports. That same year, the Women’s Sports Foundation urged lawmakers to “stop using girls’ and women’s sports as a vehicle to discriminate” against trans youth.

The following year, state lawmakers introduced roughly 80 measures to prevent trans youth from participating in school sports. At least 17 bills were passed into law.

States are also increasingly engaged in legislation and policies to restrict or eliminate access to medically necessary and potentially life-saving medical care and other support systems for trans youth.

At least 10 states have enacted laws or policies banning gender-affirming care for young trans people, and more than a dozen others are considering similar measures. More than half of all trans youth in the US between the ages of 13 and 17 are at risk of losing access to age-appropriate and medically necessary gender-affirming healthcare in their home state, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

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