Creating A Culture of Inclusion Benefits Transgender Students and Their Peers
Panelists discussed the newest front on the modern civil rights debate on Transgender Rights and Sports: Civil Rights Now and Into the Future at the Presidential Summit during the New York State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting.
Instead of widespread efforts to extend legal safeguards for the trans community, many states across the nation are headed in the opposite direction – especially when it comes to youth sports. At least 61 bills in 31 states aim to exclude children and teens who are transgender from participating in school sports programs that are consistent with their gender identity. These measures primarily target K-12 students, and many are now before state, district and U.S. appellate courts.
“This conversation that we are having is so important because our nation cannot live up to the words of our founding document until we secure the blessing of liberty for everyone,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said in her keynote address. She cited her efforts to protect transgender persons as “some of the most important work my office does.”
“Transgender rights are simply human rights,” she said. “This is an area where our nation has made tremendous gains but still has a lot of work that needs to be done. And we should all be proud that New York has been at the forefront.”
Why New Yorkers should care
New York State and New York City guidelines that encourage full inclusion of transgendered students in sports are generally permissive and inclusive, said Jacqueline J. Drohan, chair of the NYSBA Task Force on the Treatment of Transgender Youth in Sports.
However, these are not mandatory provisions. Guidelines are a little bit loosely enforced. School boards have the right to abridge or modify them to varying degrees. Some districts might have a more affirming approach.
In March 2020, Idaho was the first state to ban transgender athletes from competing in girls sports at the primary, secondary, and college levels.
Opponents of transgender student inclusion in sports have filed suits claiming that Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination in educational programming based on gender, should be reinterpreted or rewritten to clarify that it prevents the inclusion of transgender students. Legislation has been introduced that would strip Title IX of the protections afforded to transgender people.
The question of transgender youth and sports has been significantly weaponized to argue against the passage of the Equality Act, she said.
Opportunities for all
Emma Forbes-Jones, a clinical psychologist, said that sports are good for mental and physical health and offer positive benefits that surpass the school experience.
“Sports decrease anxiety, depression, obesity, and body image issues,” said Forbes-Jones. “It gives students a sense of purpose on all children and youth. The benefits of participation are real and healthy.”
She acknowledged that most student athletes’ careers end in high school and that the 5-year old soccer star is likely not going to be an athlete as an adult.
For trans students, there is an increased risk for depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, and physical health issues.
“The ability to participate in sports is a huge protective factor,” said Forbes-Jones. “The experience of trans kids has improved but it’s a bit of a patchwork.”
Both Forbes-Jones and Drohan emphasized that there is “absolutely no scientific evidence that hormonal levels give a performance advantage.”
Forbes-Jones said schools that do better on the entire culture have students that are secure enough to try out for a team. Their experience is very similar to their cisgender peers.
“It’s the domino effect,” said Forbes-Jones. “When schools are safe, everything is safe”
Jennifer L. Levi, (GLAD) agreed. “We are not just talking about sports. We need to talk about the broader context.”
Simple activities like using the correct restroom and playing sports have been subject to legislation by politicians who are often unfamiliar with the realities of trans students’ experiences.
Seventy-five percent of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. As a result, many LBGTQ students avoid school activities or miss school entirely. Twenty percent of LGBTQ students change schools because of their experiences, said Levi.