Aug 2, 2021 - Sports

Elite trans athletes decry youth sports bans

Illustration of a child running with their running number as a trans flag.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TOKYO — While transgender inclusion in elite sports presents some challenging issues, bans on participation in youth sports are simply about hate and cruelty, several top trans athletes told Axios this week.

The big picture: Lawmakers in more than half of the states have considered such bans, and they have been signed into law in at least eight states, though legal challenges remain.

  • Republican governors in South Dakota and Louisiana vetoed such bans, and several states have voted down or failed to act on proposed legislation.

"It’s absolutely sickening," Chelsea Wolfe, an alternate to the Tokyo Games and the first transgender woman to travel to the Olympics for Team USA, told Axios. "It just breaks my heart and I can’t imagine what kind of monsters do that to children."

  • Such bans may score easy political points, but come at a huge cost to the health and well-being of trans youth, these athletes say.
  • "This has become the next political weapon," openly trans and nonbinary WNBA player Layshia Clarendon told Axios.
  • Clarendon noted that many of the states discussing such bans have no current transgender athletes even participating, and in no instance are states seeing girls' sports dominated by transgender athletes.

Between the lines: Athletes say the bans also miss the point of youth sports, which isn't about the small fraction of kids who go on to play competitive in college or turn pro, but rather the benefits they confer to all those participating.

  • Clarendon said even if they had not become a professional athlete, sports gave them a place to belong.
  • "You are supposed to just play sports and have fun," Clarendon said.

The other side: Some supporters of the bans insist they're needed to promote fair competition, arguing that biological differences make it unfair for non-transgender women and girls to compete against transgender athletes who were identified as boys at birth.

  • "This bill is very simply about making sure that women can safely compete, have opportunities and physically be able to excel in a sport that they trained for, prepared for and work for," said Florida state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a supporter of the ban DeSantis signed into law, per NPR.

What they're saying: Chris Mosier, a distance runner who was the first transgender member of Team USA when he represented the country in duathlon (running and cycling), told Axios that "it is heartbreaking for me as an athlete who has represented my country internationally in sport to see that a younger version of me would be banned from playing."

  • "This is about so much more than sports; it’s about health care and identification cards and housing and employment and our abilities to live safe and happy lives. Lawmakers are starting with sports, but it seems very clear that the end goal is to try to prevent transgender people from living in public."

Wolfe notes that opponents of transgender civil rights focus on youth sports because they know that while elite sports are grappling with the issue, they are relying on experts and research.

  • "So they go after the legislatures who kind of go off their knee-jerk reactions instead of science," Wolfe said.

Of note: This year's Olympics includes at least four openly trans or nonbinary athletes, a first for the Games even though rules have allowed for transgender participation since 2003.

  • Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weightlifter, is set to become the first openly transgender woman to take part in Olympic competition when she takes part in the over-87-kilogram competition later on Monday.

Go deeper:

Go deeper