Across the country, states continue to take action to ban trans girls from participating in women’s sports. Earlier this week, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem confirmed she will sign such a bill, while New Mexico’s version of the bill, “Women’s Sports Protection Act” (House Bill 304), died in committee just a few weeks ago.
HB 304 failed in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Feb. 26 after it was introduced eight days earlier. The bill was sponsored by a cadre of Republicans: Zachary Cook, R- Ruidoso, Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, James Townsend, R-Artesia, Rachel Black, R-Alamogordo and Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park.
The entanglement of athletics and transphobia in New Mexico dates back to 2013, when the New Mexico Activities Association changed an important policy on who could compete. According to LGBTQ Nation, the 2013 revision stated that students had to compete as the gender on their original or revised birth certificate, instead of the previous policy that stated they had to compete based on their physical, as signed by a physician. LGBTQ Nation also stated that, at the time, birth certificates could only be changed after proof of gender confirmation surgery.
This new bill and dozens of others around the country were proposed after President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 20 stating the current administration’s policy that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Adrien Lawyer, the co-founder and executive director of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRCNM), said these bills are part of a central GOP strategy that depends on specific rhetoric that masks a insidious transphobic intent.
“They're always called things like 'save women's sports,' as if they give a shit about women's sports," Lawyer said. "You know you don't care about women. You don't care about women's sports. You don't care about trans people."
The fight against trans women competing in high school sports recently garnered national attention after the U.S. Department of Education declared that the Connecticut state policy on trans athletes violated Title IX. The two athletes at the center of the controversy, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, were track stars whose opposition alleged they were "stealing" opportunities and scholarships from cisgender athletes.
However, international and national rulings on transgender athletes have been on the books for over a decade. The International Olympic Committee made its first ruling on transgender athletes back in 2004, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association made a handbook regarding the inclusion of trans athletes in 2011.
The NCAA handbook states that the two major principles informing policies on trans athletes are as follows: “1. Participation in intercollegiate athletics is a valuable part of the education experience for all students, and 2. Transgender student-athletes should have equal opportunity to participate in sports.”
Andrew Echols, the community organizer for Equality New Mexico (EQNM), said bills like this take away key purposes of sports like “... teamwork, community building, getting to spend time with your friends and your peers, (and) working on yourself. By excluding transgender youth, the most vulnerable population within an already vulnerable population, they completely go against everything that school sports stand for.”
Speaking to the vulnerability of these students, Lawyer referenced the findings of the 2019 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey and said transgender students had four times the suicide attempt rate as their cisgender peers, meaning a third of all transgender students had attempted suicide within the year before taking the survey.
Another concern of those who criticize bills like HB 304 is its lack of sound scientific evidence. A study done by researchers in New Zealand that reviewed 31 national and international policies on transgender athletes found that “many sporting organizations had overinterpreted the unsubstantiated belief that testosterone leads to an athletic advantage in transgender people, particularly individuals who were assigned male at birth but identify as female.”
An example of this is Heaven Fitch, who became the first cisgender woman to win a North Carolina High School Athletic Association state championship in individual wrestling in 2020.
“Heaven Fitch would have been robbed of that championship had any of the 13 anti-trans sports bills being considered across the country been enacted in North Carolina at that moment,” according to an article published this month in Planetrans.
Lawyer mentioned how high schools don’t police cisgender athletes for body differences that have a "perceived" advantage but do so for trans athletes. He said misrepresentation in the media has created stereotypes about body types, but “there's really petite trans women — trans girls and women come in every single size.”
Both Lawyer and Echols talked about the power of transgender and allied community members speaking during the public comment for the failed HB 304. Echols emphasized the difficulty of speaking in front of the committee members as if his identity were a “medical anomaly," but that it was worth it in the end to be the role model he wanted growing up.
“I thought about (the young teenagers) trying to figure their lives out and how much it would have meant for them to be able to see this absolute army of strong trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming people speak out on behalf of them,” he said.
Lawyer brought it full circle and said the strategy of TGRCNM, EQNM and all the other organizations who came out to the committee was to make sure the legislature knew a bill like this claiming to help women’s sports wouldn’t be tolerated in the future.
“Let's figure out how to improve the climate of women's sports in the United States for all female athletes … Let's look at what's wrong with the system, not attack little trans teenagers who are trying to run track,” Lawyer said.
Shelby Kleinhans is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99