Mar 31, 2021 - Sports

3 GOP governors signed laws targeting trans youth in sports in the last 3 weeks

Illustration of a transgender symbol with a soccer ball, tennis ball, basketball, and baseball cycling through the circle in the middle.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Over 50 bills in 28 states have been introduced this year that would exclude transgender youth from playing sports on teams that align with their gender identity.

Driving the news: In the past three weeks alone, Republican governors from three states — Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas — have signed such bills.

The state of play: This legislation largely follows the same pattern. Lawmakers argue their intent is to ensure fairness in women's sports, which they believe will be overrun with dominant trans athletes if left unregulated.

  • Yes, but: Not only is there little if any scientific evidence backing that claim, but several of the states with pending legislation also hope to disallow trans boys from competing in boys sports, indicating it may be less about fairness than outright exclusion.
  • "We're not out there to take people's scholarships and stuff," a 15-year-old trans boy from North Dakota told SI. "No, we just want to compete."

The big picture: Bills targeting trans athletes are part of the larger culture war that has picked up steam since President Biden took office.

  • Arkansas just became the first state to pass a bill prohibiting doctors from performing gender-affirming care to trans youth, and over 20 other states have introduced similar bills.

What they're saying: "On the Democratic side, this is not an issue that really excites the base," Dan Cox, the director of the American Enterprise Institute's Survey Center on American Life, tells Axios' Orion Rummler.

  • "But on the right, I think these issues are really, really salient, so it tends to fire up folks disproportionately on the right than the left."

The impact: Sports participation has been linked to higher self-esteem and better grades among LGBTQ youth, 86% of whom said recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being, per The Trevor Project's 2020 mental health survey.

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