Game On or Game Over?

By: Owen Hewitt

In early March, Mississippi’s state legislature signed into law a bill that prohibited transgender students in schools from playing on athletic teams that do not match their gender assigned at birth. Since the passage of the bill in Mississippi, seven other states have passed variations of the legislation. 

A version of the bill that restricts transgender atheletes from playing on teams that match their identified gender has been proposed in 27 state legislatures, with 22 of those bills only addressing transgender girls playing with other girls. Proponents of the bills say that female transgender athletes who were born male hold an intrinsic advantage over female athletes that were born female. While there have yet to be any scientific studies on whether or not this is true, it has not stopped the theory from becoming popular in conservative circles.

The eight states that have passed some version of the bill – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee – are all legislatures with Republican majorities. The prevalence of conservative ideologies in these state houses have made it easier to pass the legislature. 

Critics of the legislation say that these bans are a way to further alienate transgender youth from their communities. Alienation has been an issue of concern by transgender rights groups for a long time, especially when it comes to transgender youth. According to the Trevor Project, a group focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth, 52% of transgender youth contemplated suicide at some point in 2020. While the research suggests that transgender youth are already in danger, conservative states continues to roll out iterations of this legislation in various states. 

There have not been many cases presented within these states of transgender youth competing in sports. These bills, instead of taking action against a pre-existing issue, tend to be viewed as preventative. Lawmakers in these states are predicting that there will be more transgendered athletes in the coming years.

Much of the fear that led to the legislature stemmed from a court case started in early 2020 by three female high school track athletes. They claimed that a policy the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference established in 2013 which allowed transgender athletes to compete with teams of their non-birth gender violated Title IX. This title protects students from discrimination based on gender. The suit was thrown out in Connecticut, but created enough of a wave to influence many conservative states to take action before the issue reached their own athletic facilities. 

Whether or not the bans are here to stay is yet to be seen, as many civil rights law groups, such as the ACLU, are suing states on behalf of athletes who are now unable to compete in their sport, citing the same Title IX clause that the Connecticut lawsuit did. Only time will tell whether or not these bans are upheld, but it would not come as a surprise if they are upheld at the Supreme Court level, as a firm conservative majority is held in the nation’s highest court.

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