Oct 18, 2021 - News

Examining the panic around trans kids in sports

Texas Rep. Valoree Swanson.

Republican Texas Rep. Valoree Swanson authored legislation that would restrict transgender student athlete participation in school sports. Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Fears about transgender students playing girls' sports have roots in wider LGBTQ+ terror that stretches to victim-blaming strategies in murder cases, a St. Edward’s University professor tells Axios.

Driving the news: Legislation blocking transgender athletes from competing in public school sports based on their gender identity is likely to be signed into law by the governor soon.

  • The political paranoia surrounding LGBTQ+ youth was on display again last week.
  • A Texas state agency removed a web page that offered resources for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth after one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Republican primary challengers said its content was "offensive" and out of line with "Texas values," per stories by the Houston Chronicle.

The persistence of panic defenses — a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction — "is like carbon monoxide," Carsten Andresen, an associate professor of criminal justice at St. Edward’s University who has studied panic defenses nationwide, tells Axios.

"You don’t see it. You don’t get the sense you’re breathing it in, but it poisons everything."
  • To date, 15 states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation banning most gay and transgender panic defenses.
  • Texas isn’t one of them.

What they’re saying: "Americans are more comfortable with gay people, with trans women, getting the same civil rights as cisgender people," Andresen says. “But certain politicians know how to whip up a small group of people.”

"You can draw a line between the toxic backlash against trans women and the transphobia you see in panic defenses."
  • On the continuum, says Andresen: Texas' 2017 failed bathroom bill, which would have required transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on their "biological sex."

The other side: State Rep. Valoree Swanson, the Republican from Spring who authored the legislation banning transgender kids from competing in school sports according to their gender identity, said the goal was to protect girls' sports.

  • "I'm excited that we have the opportunity today to stand up for our daughters, our granddaughters and all our Texas girls," Swanson said on the Texas House floor on Thursday during a charged marathon debate on the bill.
  • Her bill would protect competition, fairness and safety for girls who might otherwise be forced to compete against "biological males," who are generally bigger, faster and stronger, she said.

Yes, but: "What I’ve noticed from people driving bad things, they’re amazing at doing this switcheroo. Just as trans young people are getting their civil rights, they reframe the issue about taking civil rights away from young women trying to protect sports," Andresen said.


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