While the sports world was fixated this week on a leaked e-mail scandal in the NFL, revealing racism and contempt for athletes at the top levels of the league, as well as on Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving’s stubborn insistence on his right to infect others with Covid, a massive injustice risks being overlooked in Texas. After seven hearings on anti-trans bills, during the state’s third special session, the Texas House passed a bill to ban trans kids from sports and to open the door to surveillance and intrusion into the bodies of all youth athletes.
Under House Bill 25, K-12 student athletes are now forbidden by law from competing on school sports teams aligned with their gender identity. This bill is now on an express train to the state Senate and the governor’s desk, where all parties are expected to give this abomination a big thumbs-up.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Valoree Swanson, passed by a 76-54 margin. Its main impact, other than sanctioning bigotry and marginalization, is that it will change the current guidelines, which allow for kids to play sports in groups corresponding to their gender identity if and only if their birth certificate has been altered, an arduous process that already puts significant hurdles in front of transgender youth who want to find competition, community, and—heaven forbid—fun in the world of sports. Now even that narrow loophole will be off the table, as legally changed birth certificates will no longer be allowed to be accepted by school administrators, even if they strenuously disagree with the ruling. Basically, the new law would mandate that principals, teachers, and coaches be bigots. Not unlike the banning of the teaching of so-called critical race theory—another obsession of Texas Republicans—the bill forces educators to either enforce unjust, abusive rules or defy the law.
House Bill 25 comes on the heels of other Texas legislation from earlier this year limiting the gender-affirming health care that can be given to trans youth. For people who argue that these laws are just about sports, please realize that they are not. State Representative Mary Gonzalez made it very clear: “If you care about mental health, and I know you do, then do this simple thing and not advance this piece of harmful legislation.… We actually also know that this is a nonissue, that there is no issue with transgender and intersex students’ playing sports.”
As for Swanson, she has seen this entire ordeal as cause for celebration, saying, “This is all about girls and protecting them in our…sports. I’m excited that we have the opportunity today to stand up for our daughters, granddaughters, and all our Texas girls.”
The problem with this logic is that there have been zero complaints—zero (0)—of trans women and girls keeping cisgender women and girls off the playing field. As Representative Julie Johnson asked, “How can you say that girls are being unfairly positioned in competition in the state of Texas to justify this bill [when] there has not been a single complaint” about trans athletes? In other words, this isn’t about sports at all. It’s an attack on a highly marginalized population for no reason beyond hoping that excessive and extensive cruelties keep them from coming out and expressing who they are.
We should be asking why this is a priority for Texas at all. As Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the ACLU, said to me, “With a failing power grid, a pandemic, and an escalating climate crisis, lawmakers chose to mock, demonize and ultimately use the power of the state to bully an already marginalized group of young people all to solve a problem that plainly does not exist. Trans kids are not dominating in sports. These days trans kids spend far more time in state legislatures begging for their humanity than they do on the sports field.”
This is an intolerable piece of legislation that Governor Greg Abbott will sign with glee. For people who love our transgender family and friends, and for anyone who believes that legislative brutality is not the way to bring people closer in the human family, this is the time to speak out.
Despite the tireless work by trans youth and advocates, the Texas vote has received little to no publicity outside the state. For the Valoree Swansons of the world, there is a reason they prefer passing these bills in the dead of night. We have a duty to shine a light and to connect this barbarism with the spate of legislation coming out of Texas that does nothing to solve people’s real pressing problems, and everything to distract, divide, and demonize young people for just wanting to play.