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Arizona's push to ban transgender athletes from female sports sends a dangerous message

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·6-min read

If there’s anything that athletes share, from elite, Olympic-level stars and NFL Pro Bowlers to high school junior varsity field hockey players, it’s their love of the team and the camaraderie that comes — even for athletes in more individual sports, from practices and traveling to games to competing with and against one another.

It’s what makes going to practice enjoyable, knowing you’ll see your best friends and for a couple of hours everything else melts away. It’s what binds people for years, the shared experience of winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship or a gold medal or the Stanley Cup.

We’ve all seen stories of how sports was a respite for kids dealing with homelessness or grown-ups dealing with grief or simply offered a positive, esteem-building experience.

So many of us have benefitted, physically and mentally, from participating in sports.

Now imagine you’re a young woman navigating the already confusing and heightened days of being a high schooler, the drama that can happen because of social media, your always-grumpy biology teacher, the desire to just feel like you fit in, whatever that means.

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, back center, speaks during his State of the State address about Arizona's economy, new jobs, prison reform, and education on the opening day of the legislative session at the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
File photo: Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during his State of the State address at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, where lawmakers are supporting a ban on transgender athletes in female sports. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The one place you feel confident and great is when you’re competing.

And then, because of discrimination, someone wants to take that away from you.

Arizona House passes bill to ban transgender students from girls, women’s sports

That’s what’s unfolding in state houses and courtrooms around the country, most recently in Arizona, where the House of Representatives this week narrowly passed HB 2706, which would ban transgender students from participating in girls and women’s sports. Tennessee is considering a similar law, as are Idaho, Alabama, Georgia and Missouri.

Over 200 local and national businesses, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, signed a letter opposing the bill, which didn’t stop 31 of 60 state representatives from voting for it anyway (the vote was along party lines). The NCAA, which allows transgender women to compete on women’s teams after a year of testosterone suppression treatment, has been strangely silent even though the law, if passed, will include the state’s universities.

Rep. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) was spurred to sponsor the bill because of a lawsuit currently making its way through the system thousands of miles away, in which three families are seeking to force the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body for high school sports, to overturn its rule allowing young athletes to compete based on the gender they identify with.

The family of Canton High senior sprinter Chelsea Mitchell is one of those pushing the lawsuit. Mitchell narrowly lost the 200 meters to Bloomfield’s Terry Miller last spring in the state outdoor track championships; Miller is transgender. But last month at both the Class S state championship and the Open State championship, Mitchell beat Miller in the 55-meter dash.

Mitchell’s family and the others on the lawsuit argue cisgender females are at a disadvantage competing against transgender athletes, like Miller.

HB 2706 would apply to high schools, colleges

State history doesn’t seem to back up the claim — Barto was unable to name any cases of a cisgender girl losing out on a title or scholarship because of competition against a transgender athlete. This is simply preemptive discrimination. HB 2706 applies to public and private high schools, as well as community colleges and four-year colleges in the state.

When it was first proposed, Barto’s bill called for students to meet three requirements: They would need a doctor’s sworn statement (emphasis mine) detailing a student’s genetic makeup, “internal and external reproductive anatomy” and “normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone.”

In other words, athletes could have been forced to show their genitalia, a horrifying and humiliating practice. After pushback from a Democratic lawmaker, Barto removed the visual requirement but kept the genetic test.

But what’s to stop someone from putting a young woman who is cisgendered through the embarrassment of having to prove herself, so to speak, because an opponent or opposing coach or parent believes she’s “too good” or doesn’t fit the hackneyed stereotype of what’s “feminine” and therefore must be hiding something?

Are girls and young women, transgender and cisgender, going to be forced to carry papers at all times declaring their sex?

Transgender teenagers in particular already have alarmingly high rates of suicide and suicide ideation: According to a 2018 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 30 percent of transgender teenage girls and just over half of transgender teenage boys have attempted suicide at least once.

Saying there should be separate teams or leagues for transgender athletes is incredibly impractical: Based on the number of American adults who are transgender (.6% of the population) and the number of high school athletes there are nationally (roughly 8 million), we’re talking an estimated 48,000 kids nationally, both transgender boys and girls.

Barto clearly isn’t concerned with transgender boys or young men, as they aren’t mentioned in her proposed law; this is about policing girls’ bodies and shaming transgender girls and women — sad, familiar ideas these days.

While Barto insists that her proposed legislation isn’t discriminatory, on the same day the Arizona House voted on it, another bill that would have barred employers and landlords from discriminating against LGBT individuals was barred from even getting a hearing, signaling that it’s likely dead in the legislature.

Barto said she was “saving women’s sports” with her bill, which is news to those of us who actually pay attention to girls’ and women’s sports and have seen amazing gains and successes in recent years, like the WNBA’s groundbreaking new collective bargaining agreement.

And if it passes the Senate and Gov. Doug Ducey signs it into law, what then? A new round of howling about which bathroom or locker room she uses when she’s competing on a team of boys?

Making sure she’s humiliated at the state track meet so a bigoted few can feel better?

And what happens if cisgendered boys lose to a transgender girl — could she face violence because the boy is mocked by peers or mad?

Are we protecting our children or not?

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