Misinformation and stereotypes have dominated the state and national conversation surrounding transgender girls in sports. The ACLU of Iowa will continue to combat myths like those below that are not just false, but also deeply harmful to trans girls and girls’ sports programs as a whole.
Myth: Trans girls shouldn't participate in girls' and women's athletics because it will ruin those sports for others.
There is a long history of excluding people from sports because they're different and because they would "spoil" sports: 70 years ago Black people were excluded from sports for that same reason. 50 years ago women were excluded from sports programs. More recently, there has been resistance to openly gay girls and boys participating in team sports.
The bottom line is that trans girls are girls and should participate in girls’ sports. They are not boys and they are not an "other" that should be excluded.
Myth: Trans girls and women will completely dominate girls’ sports.
Trans girls in Iowa have already been able to compete in high school sports for the past 15 years, and the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union has provided guidance for including trans girls in girls’ sports since at least 2014. Bills aimed at excluding trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams are discriminatory and harmful and hurt kids.
Trans girls make up a tiny percentage of the population. Just 2 percent of high school students identify as transgender, according to the CDC. That means that approximately 1 percent of any given school would be comprised of transgender girls, who may or may not choose to participate in sports.
Athletes come to their sports with a variety of talent, body sizes, physical advantages or disadvantages, genetic makeup, and mental drive. Many cisgender girls, for example, are extremely tall or have exceptional muscle mass, traits that could give them an edge in multiple sports. But, correctly, we do not exclude those girls from school sports.
In fact, Scientific American recently published a piece about the myth of transgender girls taking over girls' sport, titling it, "Trans Girls Belong On Girls' Sports Teams: There Is No Scientific Case for Excluding Them."
Myth: We can't let trans girls participate in high school sports because they'll take away opportunities from cisgender girls.
People perpetuating this myth often point to a specific athlete, like Lia Thomas (who has the formal support of many fellow female athletes). But the fact that one trans person is succeeding in a sport should not be used to exclude all trans athletes.
This is especially true when talking about school sports. Consider the reasons why we offer high school athletic programs. Few people would say it’s to cultivate a small number of students so they can get significant money for college and position themselves for a professional career.
Instead, we put enormous amounts of time and money into school sports programs because it teaches kids important, lifelong lessons about physical fitness, setting personal goals and achieving them, teamwork, and respect for others.
It's not unlike school musical programs. We don't sponsor them just so a select few can get a high-dollar scholarship or become a pro. We do it to develop personal musical skills, to teach setting and reaching goals, and to cultivate a life-long appreciation for music.
Myth: It's okay to say, "I support transgender people but...."
For anyone who supports women and who has been frustrated by someone saying, "I'm a feminist but...," it's the same with transgender girls in sports.
Transgender girls ARE girls, no ifs, ands, or buts. Transgender women ARE women. Transgender women's rights are women's rights. We need to treat them just like every other girl and woman, and that includes in sports.