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It’s Time to Get Trans Athletes on the Field

As many state legislatures regress away from the meager progress made towards equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals, repealing measures that protect the queer community and proposing more and more antagonistic policies (bans on gender-affirming care, for example), public spaces grow increasingly hostile for genderqueer and gender-nonconforming people. The illusion of safety that laws like the unpassed Equality Act of 2021, which would have guaranteed fair treatment for genderqueer people in arenas from housing to education, provided has been thoroughly eradicated.

Queer children especially feel the effects of these changes as the minimalistic protections they once had—rudimentary defenses against bullying, misgendering and harassment in school—vanish. Transgender and nonbinary children face discrimination and ignorance from teachers and students alike, with few resources they can rely on to end or even acknowledge this mistreatment. For queer students who bravely opt not to hide their identities, the road to getting involved in school activities—a critical step for building interpersonal skills and developing the lasting, healthy connections that children need—is long and treacherous.

Many of the extracurricular programs offered to students, especially sports teams, prove inaccessible to queer children because they are divided by sex and provide no inclusive options for those whose sex at birth does not match their gender identity. Genderqueer students who hope to get involved in school sports must fight tooth and nail just to be recognized as athletes. They are ridiculed, forced from teams of their preferred gender, or outright barred from playing.

State-specific legislation on accessibility for transgender athletes proposes a wide range of solutions. While some states allow healthcare professionals who work regularly with transgender teens to support or veto a student’s participation in sports, others restrict access to athletic activities based solely on the student’s birth certificate.

Pennsylvania falls somewhere in between these options, giving school principals the vote on whether genderqueer students should compete on their preferred-gender teams or not—a significant power for administrators to wield without the input of any viewpoint aside their own. Even with this ruling in place, though, some PA school boards have proposed and passed legislation barring transgender athletes from competing on any sports team that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

These regulations are as small-minded as they are unconstructive. Refusing to consider the health and happiness of genderqueer athletes and barring them from playing sports actively harms their development. True, it is nigh-impossible to concoct a blanket solution that works for every athlete, every sport and every school, but blanket solutions are not required. Countless queer people experience gender in different ways, so attempting to force them into a one-size-fits-all fix is as useless as refusing to let them compete.

Helping transgender athletes get onto the teams they deserve will require time, dedication, and open minds. It will require lawmakers to think deeply about each facet of this complex issue instead of instantly throwing up their walls, believing it is too complicated to solve.

Yes, complications arise from letting trans athletes compete with peers of the same gender. Most gender-affirming surgeries are restricted to children under 18, and transgender athletes cannot fully transition—rendering them physically equal to their cisgender peers in the eyes of the law—until adulthood. But this does not mean that removing young transgender athletes from the picture will help. Refusing to acknowledge these children directly harms their wellbeing and bars them from yet another opportunity in a world that does its best to silence, invalidate or downright destroy them every day.

Transgender athletes do not want to ruin anyone’s chance of competing, of winning, of enjoying their sport. They just want to feel comfortable in their own skin, to be acknowledged for who they are as so many never get to be. Do not deny them this chance yet again.

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Rebekah Reaver is a senior at Gettysburg Area High School who is
honored to be interning with the Gettysburg Connection. They have been
a Gettysburg resident for 9 years and enjoy writing opinion pieces
along with free verse poems.

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Kathleen Heidecker
Kathleen Heidecker
19 days ago

Well said, Rebekah.

Amanda Kittelberger
Amanda Kittelberger
21 days ago

Thank you very much for opening this conversation with thoughtful and clear arguments. Every child in and around Gettysburg has a fundamental right to dignity – and with that – psychological safety. Adults bear great responsibility for supporting and protecting the human rights of all children with no exceptions. Educators know this and can be a tremendous resource if our community chooses to extend to them its respect and patience in discussions that take time and require new learning for ALL of us.

Kathleen Heidecker
Kathleen Heidecker
21 days ago

Well said, Rebekah!

Rev. Dr. Martin Otto-Zimmann

Thank you for this well-written, poignant piece. I pray that soon folks will align with these values so that every student has equitable access to every opportunity that our tax dollars provide.

22 days ago

I feel for those caught in the middle, but honestly? Physical biology IS different, and when it comes to sports where that matters (track, swimming, etc), whatever rules are made, it’s not fair to someone. To me, it’s better for the unfairness to go to the fewest people, and that’s letting biological gals (XX) compete together, not an open playing field for those whose bodies are XY or XXY.

If I were or had someone in that position I’d encourage them to take up sports where it doesn’t matter – coed teams, equestrian, or similar, because yes, all deserve opportunities.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x