Trans kids and their supporters say new Texas law will prevent them from participating in school sports

AUSTIN, Texas (TEXAS TRIBUNE) — Julia wouldn’t describe herself as the “greatest sportswoman” in the world. She’s not into basketball or football. She played soccer when she was little, but it didn’t last as she got older.

What she really enjoys are sports like cross-country and track and field, which she says are on a smaller scale and more intimate. She trained with her dad, who was a track runner in high school, and soon discovered she had a knack for it.

“He taught me form and how to run, and I fell in love with obstacle course because I was good at it, but also, it just gave me a feeling that you don’t really get. in many other situations,” she said. It’s like pausing life for about 20 seconds, she added, and “you just focus on what you’re doing and how to do it right.”

It’s that feeling that Julia seeks when she trains – but as a transgender athlete, she hasn’t been able to pursue it in competition. Due to statewide rules, she is essentially prohibited from competing against other girls.

“The government and Greg Abbott think I’m good because of how I was born, but really, I’m good because I know how to do the form, and I’m good because I practice my ass,” said Julia. , a transgender girl who attends a high school in central Texas and asked to use a pseudonym and remain anonymous to protect her privacy. “Honestly, with the leadership we have right now who is responsible and sets the rules, I don’t think I will be able to race.”

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 25, which requires student-athletes to play on sports teams that match the gender listed on their birth certificate, and the certificate of athletes attending must have been issued to time of birth. The law went into effect Tuesday, making Texas the 10th U.S. state to pass similar legislation.

Proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to protect women’s sport from what they believe is unfair competition. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, said one of her main reasons for drafting the bill was to “protect the safety of girls.” She did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The law targets transgender youth, a fairly small segment of the state’s population. Data shows that less than half of LGBTQ youth participate in sports, and the number of transgender youth is expected to be even smaller.

Nonetheless, legislation targeting trans people has been a big part of the Texas GOP agenda in recent years. The transgender sports bill was part of a litany of anti-trans laws introduced in Texas’ four legislative sessions last year that caused some LGBTQ families to question their residency in the state and resulted in adverse effects on the mental health of LGBTQ youth, said Ricardo Martinez. , executive director of Equality Texas, a statewide LGBTQ rights organization for Texans.

“Legislators have willfully ignored the overwhelming harm this bill and similar bills have already done in favor of exploiting our differences and the unfamiliarity some people may have about transgender people,” he said. Martinez said. “We know it stirs up fear and divides us.”

Advocates for transgender youth say they are bracing for the impact of the law’s implementation and the scrutiny of transgender youth and their bodies. School districts have said they will follow the law, but it’s still unclear what that will look like in practice and how schools will determine if a student’s birth certificate was issued near the time of birth.

Julia, 16, said she had been able to train with her school’s women’s team during the track and field season, but was not competing. For her, the law means she has to face a “hard truth”: participating in a sport she loves is something she simply won’t be able to do.

“I wish I had this kind of idea in my head that this practice would lead to something,” she said. “Now after realizing that this law is being put in place…all the practice I’m going to do will come to nothing because I have nowhere to show it or nowhere to compete.”

Stay in compliance

Although some Republican lawmakers have said the new law codifies existing rules of the University Interscholastic League, the athletic governing body for Texas public schools, the law goes further than previous UIL rules. UIL allowed students to submit legally altered birth certificates, which students may have altered to align with their gender identity.

UIL introduced a rule in 2016 that an athlete’s gender would be officially determined by their birth certificate. Under the new law, an amended birth certificate would only be accepted if it was amended to correct a clerical error.

Julia, who is currently in the process of having her gender marker changed on her birth certificate, said she was optimistic a new birth certificate would allow her to compete with other girls.

UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said school districts will be responsible for ensuring they follow the law, but it’s not entirely clear whether they will be able to determine whether a certificate of birth is original.

“It’s new ground, so some of it will be learned as you go,” Harrison said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “But UIL does not have an investigative arm outside of its member school committees. We don’t have a bunch of black Suburbans and headphones and guys checking birth certificates, that’s not how it works. Ultimately, schools will have to do their best to make sure they follow the law.

Harrison said if districts fail to comply with the law, they will be subject to certain penalties and at a minimum will be required to forfeit the competition.

The Tribune reached out to some of the state’s largest school districts in major metropolitan and surrounding areas to ask about their plans to comply with the law. Several school districts did not respond to requests for comment and a handful declined to be interviewed.

Deanne Hullender, spokesperson for the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District, said it will “certainly follow all UIL guidelines and policies provided in this new legislation”. Meghan Cone, spokesperson for the Frisco Independent School District, said operations in her district are not expected to change because the bill “primarily codifies existing UIL regulations.”

Enforcement of laws similar to HB 25 has been halted in states like Idaho and West Virginia as legal battles over statutes unfold in the courts. A lawsuit in Tennessee also challenges that state’s version of the law.

Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a national LGBTQ civil rights legal organization, said the Texas law “certainly raises questions about equal protection and civil rights.”

“If you are going to treat one group of students differently than another, then you are looking, at least in this case, for a violation of equal protection, but that is also gender discrimination,” said Skeen.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the current interpretation of Title IX — a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education — also encompasses protections for gender identity and gender identity. sexual orientation.

Andrea Segovia, senior policy and field strategist at the Texas Education Network of Texas, said her organization is currently focused on supporting transgender students as the law takes effect by ensuring they are connected to mental health resources and helping educators find the best ways to be allies with LGBTQ youth.

“Unfortunately, we’re at a point where it’s like a bit of a wait,” Segovia said of law enforcement. “Because we know UIL affects all public schools, but like any other law in this state, it really depends on how they enforce it.”

Small group, big impact

Transgender people make up a small fraction of the state’s population, and the transgender youth population between the ages of 13 and 17 is estimated to be around 13,800, or about 0.7% of teens in that age range, according to Williams from the University of California, Los Angeles. Institute. However, Texas is one of the states with the most transgender youth outside of California, Florida and New York.

Harrison said UIL does not currently keep data on the number of K-12 transgender athletes who participate in school sports.

According to the Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, about one in three LGBTQ youth report participating in sports. Young transgender people are less likely to compete than their lesbian, gay and bisexual peers, said Casey Pick, Trevor Project’s senior researcher for advocacy and government affairs.

“A lot of these young people are telling us that they haven’t participated in sports for fear of harassment and discrimination, so that’s a reality,” Pick said. “But some of the young people who participate tell us that it’s their only source of relaxation, their place to find camaraderie and teamwork, that they have a lot of fun and sometimes it’s the place where they hang out. feel the best about their bodies and who they are.”

Another concern among opponents of the Texas law is the effect it could have on cisgender women who do not subscribe to traditional interpretations of what a young girl or woman should look like.

Lis Riley, whose child is a cisgender girl who plays basketball in the Austin Independent School District, said her daughter used to come out as male before but started to withdraw into a feminine identity so that she is not targeted when she plays sports.

“‘I need to look like a girl so people don’t look at me weird when I try out for the girls’ basketball team’ is basically what she tells me, which is kinda sad to feel like it’s the world of high school sports in a public school,” Riley said.

Meanwhile, student athletes like Julia have virtually no choice if they want to compete.

During the current off-season, Julia said she trains by running around her neighborhood and occasionally hitting the track at her school. Her coaches applauded her talent, she said, but she made it clear to them that the only team she feels comfortable playing on and competing with is the women’s track and field team.

“I don’t see it as a ‘me’ problem. I see it as other people’s problem,” she said of the Texas law. “I kind of accepted that I wouldn’t be able to (compete). I’m just dealing with it. I mean, it sucks, but it’s kind of the harsh reality.

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