Women athletes are continuously treated unfairly in sports, but this disadvantage has nothing to do with the inclusion of transgender athletes.
If politicians really cared about fairness for women’s sports as they so fervently claim, they would take action to fix the systemic inequalities that plague the sporting world. Instead, they have chosen to use women’s sports — a space many look to as a symbol of empowerment and inclusion — as a means to advance harmful, transphobic narratives.
A harmful trend of laws banning the participation of young transgender athletes in girls’ sports has taken state legislatures by storm. On March 25, Utah became the 12th state to enact such legislation when the state legislature overrode Governor Spencer Cox’s veto of such a bill under the guise of protecting the fairness of women’s sports. At their core, these laws are transphobic, exclusionary and impose great harm on the transgender community.
I, a cisgender woman, am the person I am today because I played sports growing up. From the friendships I made to the self-confidence I developed, sports participation has continued to positively impact my life long after I stepped off the court. Every single person deserves this same chance. Yet, these blatantly discriminatory laws deny transgender girls the same opportunities to seek this lifelong sense of community and belonging.
These laws also carry potentially deadly consequences. A recent study of LGBTQ youth mental health found that 52% of transgender and non-binary young people in the United States seriously considered suicide in 2020. Inclusive policies are an important part of mitigating the additional barriers that transgender people face on a daily basis and could help to save someone’s life.
These laws also attempt to fearmonger by creating a false narrative that transgender women are dominating women’s sports. The laws target an incredibly small fraction of high school athletes; AP News reported that legislators from over 20 states could not even provide specific examples of transgender athletes in women’s sports.
This narrative is also false at the elite level. U.S. newsrooms have clung to the story of University of Pennsylvania swimming champion Lia Thomas, who became the first transgender woman to win a Division 1 NCAA title when she won the 500-yard freestyle March 17. The NCAA cleared Thomas to compete in the women’s division because she adhered to the sports governing body’s guidelines on hormone therapy.
Still, many people, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have unjustly vilified Thomas, claiming that she is unfairly dominating the sport. Once again, the data disproves this narrative, showing that Thomas’ time would have won the championship in only one of the past 10 seasons.
The controversy surrounding Thomas’ success highlights a broader issue within sports and society. Casting doubt over Thomas’ eligibility upholds the misogynistic power structures that police women’s bodies. When a woman athlete’s body diverges too far from the narrow preconceived notion of a slim, overtly feminine, Eurocentric body, they are subjected to harsh criticism.
Womanhood is beautifully diverse. For too long, women — particularly Black women — who do not conform to society’s narrow standards have had their womanhood unjustly called into question. World Athletics unjustly sidelined Black female athletes Christine Mboma, Beatrice Masilingi and Caster Semenya due to naturally-occuring higher testosterone levels. But no one even bats an eyelid when men have similar physical advantages. It would be unthinkable to suggest men should take medication to hold them back, yet society has deemed it permissible to force these women to do so.
I am proud to be a fan of all women’s sports because it is an empowering community. We must foster an inclusive space in which everyone can feel empowered. Trans women are women, so an attack on them is an attack on all women’s sports — the very thing politicians claim to want to protect.
People with the power to change things have been ignoring cries for equality for too long. If society wants to have a productive discussion about how we can improve fairness in women’s sports, we must focus on investment to counteract a history of neglect. This change would increase access to community funding and ensure all schools and universities are in compliance with Title IX. This change would secure equal pay, sponsorship opportunities and working conditions for college and professional leagues. This change would elevate women to coaching and front office jobs and create systems where sexual abuse and harassment are not tolerated and survivors feel safe coming forward.
Above all, this change would certainly focus on creating a safe, inclusive environment where women, no matter their sexual orientation, race or sex assigned at birth, can play the sports they love and thrive in the process.
Resources: On-campus resources include Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985). Additional off-campus resources include the Crisis Text Line (text 741741) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).
Carrie McDonald is a sophomore in the College. The Equalizer appears online and in print every other week.