Banning Trans Athletes Is Just the Beginning
Demonstrators supporting restrictions on transgender student athletes gather at the Texas State Capitol on September 20, 2021 in Austin. “What a sad commentary on our society that the action being taken in Congress is one that targets a subset of women and girls—those who are trans—and singles them out for discrimination,” Chase Strangio tells Dave Zirin. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa / Getty Images)
Rightists have a genocidal perspective on trans kids. Now they want the federal government to use Title IX to further push trans young people from public life.
The GOP is pushing forward a federal ban on trans people playing sports. On Wednesday, we will have the first hearings on the nauseatingly misnamed Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. Greg Steube, an election denier from Florida, introduced the bill, HR 734, in February. It seeks to amend Title IX—the 1972 federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination—to define sex as that which is “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
This is the third time that Steube has attempted to pass such legislation, and it follows a spate of bills being put forward at the state level. Since 2020, governors have signed into law 18 pieces of legislation that bar transgender athletes from competing, and there are injunctions blocking the enforcement of bans in Idaho, West Virginia, Indiana, and Utah.
Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who has been fighting these laws, told me, “The introduction of HR 734 is both a troubling reflection of where we are in the national landscape of attacks on trans people, particularly trans youth, and an ominous sign of what is to come. With so many threats to women’s sports, what a sad commentary on our society that the action being taken in Congress is one that targets a subset of women and girls—those who are trans—and singles them out for discrimination.”
He went on to say, “If we are to fight back against the many threats to bodily autonomy that we are seeing in state legislatures and in Congress, we need a meaningful and coordinated resistance to legislation like HR 734, and we need to challenge the notion that targeting and demonizing trans people protects anyone.”
The sports bill is also, tragically, supported by a few prominent women athletes who believe that they are somehow protecting women’s sports by allying with people who not only want to destroy Title IX but also to reelect a misogynist and alleged rapist as president. Strange bedfellows indeed.
One Olympic gold medalist who supports a trans bans and has written upon it extensively is the swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who founded the organization Champion Women. As Dr. Johanna Mellis, cohost of the End of Sports Pod, tweeted to me (and I reprint with permission): “Enraging how several cishet [cisgender, heterosexual] white women like NHM [Nancy Hogshead–Makar] who ostensibly vote Dem and believe in abortion rights are trans panic-ers and boosting their platform off such bigotry.”
I guarantee that these very forces will at some point call for Title IX to be thrown out. No one should give these people one droplet of credibility. Anyone who cares about women’s athletics should be aghast to see Title IX, some of the most important legislation for gender equality ever produced by this country, used as a cudgel to keep trans kids off the playing field. They should call that what it is: an obscenity. Either Title IX is a shining example of inclusion or it is not. For it to be used months after its 50th anniversary as a tool for bigots is the true perversion in this story.
The anti-trans feminists of the sports world say that their support is only for this bill and that they aren’t part of the larger movement of exclusion backed by street violence being whipped up against trans people. This is a cheesecloth-thin cover for the reality of what this legislation represents. HR 734 is a not-subtle way of saying that trans people have no place in public life. Not surprisingly, the same GOP rallying in lockstep behind this bill is also pushing Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) “Protect Children’s Innocence Act,” which would make it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors. That is also going to be taken up this week. The GOP establishment is all in. The bills are strongly supported by the Conservative Political Action Conference and its leader, Matt Schlapp, who is accused of sexually assaulting a male staffer. At CPAC over the weekend, Michael Knowles, a GOP yipping head, called for the “eradication of transgenderism,” only to threaten lawsuits against people who accurately described his speech as violent and even genocidal. As a Jew, if someone at CPAC—perhaps next year—called for the “eradication of Judaism” and then explained it by saying, “We just meant Judaism, not Jews,” my mind would not be put at ease. And not surprisingly, there has been no condemnation of these statements either by CPAC or anyone who claims to be pro-trans in every area except for sports.
We need to be willing to discuss any issue that may invariably arise with transgender athletes and the sexual binary that defines sports in this country. It could be an exciting moment to reimagine how we organize young people to play sports, especially at the youth level. Instead, the issue has become yet another cleaver by the right—with minimal resistance from muted Democrats—used to distract, divide, and demonize. Republicans are not stopping with sports in their project of trans eradication. Either we stand with our trans friends, or we lose them. Either we stand with our trans friends, or Title IX will at some point be a memory. Either we stand with our trans friends, or we’re next.
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