Trans women are subject to sports bans, but do they really have an advantage?

Trans women are subject to sports bans, but do they really have an advantage?

“I did cross-country as well and kind of realized this is my thing,” Hecox, of Boise, Idaho, told ABC News’ Kayna Whitworth. “I’m good at it, I like it, and I’m going to continue doing it, because I wanted to really get better.” Yet, while discovering this fundamental aspect of her life in high school, Hecox was suppressing another. Hecox, a transgender woman, was assigned male at birth. Throughout high school, she said she presented as male, but like many transgender teens, she said it did not match her gender identity.

Trans women targeted in sports bans, but are they really at an advantage? “I felt like I wasted a little bit of my life trying to pretend to be a guy and just repressing everything,” Hecox said. “That seems so much better now.”

In March 2020, Idaho’s legislature passed House Bill 500, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans transgender girls and women from competing in female sports leagues. “I don’t know, [it’s] something about trans women athletes. They feel like it’s going to be some huge, tall, muscular superstar,” Hecox said. “I don’t even think most of my teammates would even think of me as trans — I just look like a regular girl.”

Bills like this, Hecox said, may be driven by misconceptions that people have about trans women’s abilities in sports. It wasn’t until heading to college that Hecox decided to live her life authentically, and she began transitioning. However, as she waited for the track team tryouts at Boise State University, a new law threatened to uproot all that she’d worked for.

The bill prompted Hecox to take action. In April 2020, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups and legal firms, she filed a lawsuit opposing the legislation. In August, a judge issued a preliminary injunction, effectively preventing the law from being enforced while the case remains pending. Last month, Missouri father Brandon Boulware, whose transgender daughter plays volleyball, implored the state’s lawmakers to vote against a bill that would block trans teens from participating in high school sports.

“I need you to understand that this language, if it becomes law, will have real effects on real people,” he added. “I ask you, please, don’t take that away from my daughter or the countless others like her.” Still, the bill opened a legislative Pandora’s box, with other states following in Idaho’s footsteps. At least 28 states have either proposed or passed approximately 52 bills excluding trans athletes from participating in school sports — namely, trans girls and women in grades K-12 and college. In Minnesota, legislators have introduced a bill that would make trans female participation in school sports a petty misdemeanor, possibly punishable by a fine.

Such marginalization can have devastating effects on trans teens. In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of nearly 132,000 students, 27% of those who identified as trans said they felt unsafe at or traveling to or from school, and nearly 35% said they’d attempted suicide. Still, the bill opened a legislative Pandora’s box, with other states following in Idaho’s footsteps. At least 28 states have either proposed or passed approximately 52 bills excluding trans athletes from participating in school sports — namely, trans girls and women in grades K-12 and college. In Minnesota, legislators have introduced a bill that would make trans female participation in school sports a petty misdemeanor, possibly punishable by a fine.

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