Allowing transgender students to participate in sports on teams that correspond with their gender identity is crucial to fostering a sense of well-being, according to a new filing in a lawsuit over Indiana’s law requiring students to play sports only on teams that match their assigned sex at birth.
Eight transgender women athletes have filed an amicus brief in support of a 10-year-old Indiana student identified only as A.M., who sued the state’s public schools over a law prohibiting students from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. That law, House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1041, took effect in July after the state legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican.
A federal district court in Indiana issued an injunction barring enforcement of the law later that month. Indiana Public Schools has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
The plaintiff is a 10-year-old student identified only as A.M. She plays on her school’s all-girls softball team. Under the current Indiana law, she would not be able to rejoin her teammates.
That, according to the women in the brief, would be devastating.
“Transgender amici who participated in sports with policies that respected their gender identity excelled socially and personally, were able to develop critical skills that carried over to their personal lives and development, and built strong relationships with their teammates and competitors, which in turn furthered understanding, acceptance, teamwork, and inclusivity,” the brief, filed by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) says. “In contrast, when amici were excluded from sports or discriminated against in their respective sports, they often suffered social, emotional, and physical harm.”
Indeed, the brief includes stories — both positive and negative — from transgender athletes who were either welcomed into their respective sports or rejected from them.
Hailey Davidson, a professional golfer from Kissimmee, Florida who described golf as the thing that “kept [her] alive,” was forced to stop playing for six years in order to meet the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s (LGPA) requirements for transgender female athletes. At the time, the LGPA required years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and gender reassignment surgery, as well as a waiting period of one to two years post-surgery before competing.
Davidson described how her athletic performance changed over the course of her transition. Her swing slowed by 15 miles per hour, affecting how hard she could hit the ball, and her new swing placed her in “the middle side” of female golfers overall, when as a male she was in “the upper half.”
“You can see it click in people’s minds as I get outdriven that I am literally just like the other girls,” Davidson said.
Kayla Ward, a long-time basketball player who at one point had hoped to be the first openly transgender woman in the WNBA, said that the sport gave her renewed hope and direction after her transition, which came after divorcing her then-spouse. She said that as a trans woman athlete, she didn’t feel safe playing pickup games with men, fearing they would respond negatively upon learning the truth about her. According to the brief, she now plays with a league in Southern California that welcomes non-binary people and both cisgender and transgender women.
Ward says that laws like Indiana’s can cause real and lasting damage.
“These laws are only doing one thing: further isolating individuals who already feel alone and unworthy of connection,” Ward said in the brief. “Sports, especially basketball for me growing up as a kid, was essentially my salvation. Because feeling different when I was little, I thought about suicide all the time. The only reason that didn’t happen is because of that basketball court.”
Amelia Gapin, a runner in New Jersey, said that inclusive policies in competitive running have led to her having a “warm reception in the sport” and the ability to compete without issue. She also noted that, after her transition, she only qualified for the Boston Marathon after six attempts, undercutting complaints that transgender women have competitive advantages over cisgender athletes.
If that were the case, Gapin says in the brief, “why are we not out there crushing it?”
Chloe Anderson had a decidedly less positive experience. The one-time student athlete, who played volleyball for the University of Southern California said that while NCAA rules allowed her to play on a women’s team, a hostile environment caused her to leave the sport and sparked a serious depression.
“Even at 6’0” tall, she was not the tallest on the team or the strongest, and remarks that many of her cisgender teammates’ abilities on the volleyball court exceeded hers,” the brief says. “Unfortunately, the program was not supportive, and Chloe often heard slurs from competitors and became aware that coaching staff were disparaging her behind her back. While she initially put on a brave face, she nonetheless felt isolated and attacked. Eventually, things became so bad that Chloe pulled out of the program. The isolation was devastating, resulting in significant depressive episodes and a suicide attempt. She ultimately left USC.”
The amicus brief argues that Indiana’s law violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantee.
“Because HEA 1041 denies transgender women access to equal opportunities and is based on unfounded stereotypes about transgender women, it fails to pass muster under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX,” the brief says (citations omitted). “Amici respectfully urge this Court to consider their stories in affirming the decision of the Southern District of Indiana.”
As the TLDEF noted in a press release Monday, A.M.’s complaint says that playing softball has helped her to more fully experience her life as a girl.
“Not allowing her to do so in the fall would be a painful, constant reminder that she is not accepted by the world as the girl that she is,” the legal organization’s press release said.
“Virtually every athletic regulatory body including the NCAA, World Athletics, and the International Olympic Committee has had policies in place for years that allow for transgender people to participate fairly,” David Brown, the TLDEF legal director, said in the press release. “All athletes benefit from inclusive and supportive policies that incentivize the development of critical life skills. What we are seeing with this law and similar laws across the country is yet another attempt to politicize trans lives and fearmonger to win elections, with absolutely no regard for reality or the devastating impacts these laws have on transgender young people.”
You can read the amicus brief here.
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