Trans Student Athletes: How to Advocate for Them When No One Else Will
This article was originally published by Them.
Andraya Yearwood was a freshman at Cromwell High School when she became the face of a national debate about including transgender people in school sports.
Yearwood and Terry Miller, both 16-year-old black trans women, won a total of 15 track championships in their home state of Connecticut between 2017 and 2019. Her success made national headlines, sparking a public backlash, invasive assumptions about her body, and a February 2020 lawsuit by the families of three white cisgender athletes to prevent them from competing, filed with support from the anti-trans organization Alliance Defending Freedom.
While the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, trans children today face a full-scale legislative assault on their right to exist. According to the ACLU, over 435 anti-LGBTQ+ laws were introduced in 2023 alone, the most ever recorded in a single year. These include a series of transportation bans of increasing severity, such as a 2022 Ohio bill that would have allowed “genital inspections” on student athletes. So far in 2023, states have reviewed, and in some cases passed, over 40 bills that limit or ban trans student athletes from participating in athletic teams.
“It’s heartbreaking to see such restrictive bans,” said Yearwood, one of the stars of the Hulu documentary changing the gametold Them. “It just reminds me how privileged I was in the situation I found myself in because a lot of kids, especially now, don’t have the opportunity and maybe never will have the opportunity.”
Though she didn’t quite understand it at the time, Yearwood says her parents knew that their daughter’s simple desire to run on the girl’s running team would be an uphill battle. So they did everything in their power to support her: they arranged meetings with the school administration, arranged for press coverage that illustrated the realities of being a transgender student-athlete, and just showed up to support her at running events.
All of this legislative turmoil can leave parents and allies of trans athletes wondering how best to support them. But things are not hopeless. From speaking up in your own community to raising awareness of what it means to be a trans athlete, there are many ways you can help fight for trans rights.
According to Yearwood, if you want to be a trans student-athlete champion in your lifetime, understanding the issues trans youth face, educating yourself and showing up is critical. If you want to learn more about how transportation bans can affect student-athletes and how best to advocate for them, read on for our comprehensive guide.
What do transport bans mean for student athletes?
The majority of anti-transsport laws seek to prevent trans youth from participating in school athletic teams. Since the first of these bills passed in Idaho in 2020, the conservative right has embraced anti-transsport bans as a mainstay of its political strategy to mobilize the public against trans people as a whole. So far, 19 states have enacted sports bans since 2020.
These prohibitions are often permeated with assumptions about trans children and their bodies that simply do not correspond to reality. Anne Lieberman, director of policies and programs at Athlete Ally, says it’s important to focus on facts rather than repeating common myths about trans athletes. While conservatives speak of a wave of trans athletes taking over professional sports, trans people make up less than 0.002% of the 50,000 athletes who have competed in the Paralympics and Olympics since 2004, according to Athlete Ally.
“So much emphasis has been on elite level participation by trans women — but the impact we’re seeing is in our youth,” says Lieberman Them. “In many states that have proposed or passed sports bans, legislators have not even been able to provide an example of a trans girl’s participation.”
While the arguments on which these bills are based are flawed, their impact is very real. Their legal mandates may include imposing hormone restrictions on collegiate athletes, a federal ban on all trans and intersex girls and women from participating in scholastic and professional sports, genital inspections of minors to ensure trans athletes cannot compete , and much more.
“If politicians monitor our bodies and try to tell us who we can be, it will end up hurting us all,” said Maria Bruno, public policy director at the nonprofit LGBTQ+ organization Equality Ohio. “We need cis people to stand up against these anti-transgender laws because without our allies these bills will just keep moving forward. It is up to all of us to protect each other.”
How can families and allies of trans athletes support?
It is well established that trans children with supportive families are more likely to experience positive mental health effects. When parents of trans children accept them for who they are, they experience significantly less anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts throughout their lives. The case is no different when trans youth face bans against trans sports.
Amid the hate and rejection she received, Yearwood says it was really her community of support that kept her grounded: her parents, her friends, and her team.
“There were times when I wanted to stop or didn’t want to keep running, and they were the ones that said, ‘No, you should keep running. You shouldn’t let these people stop you from playing a sport you love,'” she says Them.
If you’re not sure where to start as a parent or friend, here are some tips on how to support your trans student athlete.
Accept your child as it is
The first step in supporting your child is simple: accept them for who they are. While a common conservative talking point against trans youth is that they don’t understand their own identity or that their gender is a passing phase, study after study has proved this is not true. Trans kids understand their gender as young as their cisgender peers, so it’s up to the adults around them to listen.
“The most important thing adults and family members can do is accept and respect their child and be a reliable safe space and listening ear,” says Bruno. “It’s also more important than ever to stand up to bullies. Adults bully children and it is up to other adults to stand up to them.”
Familiarize yourself with LGBTQ+ resources
The better you understand the resources available to you, the better you can help trans people. Yearwood says a good place to start is to research LGBTQ+ support groups in your area, from your local PFLAG chapter to this list of state trans legal aid organizations from the National Center for Trans Equality to the Queer Student Alliance (QSA). at your student’s middle or high school.
Yearwood tells Them that resources like these can help connect trans athletes in your life with the broader LGBTQ+ community, which can be incredibly supportive. During her freshman year, she was able to attend a meeting of her local PFLAG group with her parents, where she connected with other trans youth who were experiencing similar problems in their high schools.
“We were there and wanted to hear about the experiences of other parents and other children to see how that might impact our own situation,” says Yearwood.
If you can’t find local resources, national organizations like Athlete Ally, the You Can Play Project, and GLSEN work to support trans athletes who are facing athletic bans in their district or state.
Nothing says you’re here and ready to fight for your trans athlete like taking it upon yourself to commit. This may include educating yourself about anti-trans laws affecting your state and how you can best support them in their day-to-day lives.
“In general, we encourage people to work with LGBTQ+ organizations to keep up with legislative proposals in their state and to speak out Before These laws are passed and become law,” says Bruno.
Yearwood says that physically showing up to games and meetings can also go a long way in showing your support.
“[My mom] has done a lot to take the initiative and do things on my own,” says Yearwood. “It would only help the child to see that you are involved and that you genuinely care about your child’s gender identity and sexuality.”
Be okay with letting people go
Unfortunately, not everyone in your life will work to understand or accept trans people, including family members. This can often take the form of bullying, harsh language, or hostility. This means you may need to eliminate them from your life until they do, especially if they are harming children in your life.
“Be willing to accept the possibility of losing people or family members,” Yearwood says. “For example, my mother had to stop talking to her father — my grandfather — because he didn’t really approve of me being trans. They’re fine now, but in order for her to take these steps to support me, she first had to come to the realization that, “okay, there are a lot of people who might disagree with that, especially family members… Sometimes you have to.” put your child first.’”
Trans kids are magic. Unfortunately, legislators, administrators, and even loved ones can try to stifle their luster. This is why it is so important to educate and equip yourself with the best possible tools to speak up for trans children when the world around you is not.
“We are human and we deserve these rights. We deserve proper health care. We deserve to play on sports teams that reflect our gender identity, and we shouldn’t let those rights be stolen from us,” Yearwood said. “Keep spreading awareness, whether it’s on social media, whether you’re telling people like your neighbor, [and] people in the community”.
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