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Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe is throwing the gauntlet, refuting claims made by lawmakers that bans on transgender athletes are necessary to protect women’s opportunities in sport.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Rapinoe says that sports taught her important life lessons, and argues that transgender children should be entitled to learn those lessons by participating in sports, without hindrances, just as their cisgender peers are currently able to do.
Rapinoe calls out the more than 40 bills introduced in more than two dozen states throughout the country that seek to bar transgender athletes from women’s sports. Recently, the Republican governors of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee signed bans into effect restricting transgender youth to competing based on their assigned sex at birth. Similar bills have been introduced in nearly two dozen other states, often pushed by conservative religious groups opposed to LGBTQ rights.
“These bills are some of the most intense political assaults on LGBTQ people in recent years. Sports have become another avenue to attack the rights of trans people,” Rapinoe writes. “These efforts cause incredible harm to trans youth, who, like all kids in a global pandemic, are feeling isolated and need compassion and support. Even before the pandemic hit, 1 in 3 transgender youth reported attempting suicide, as one national crisis-prevention organization reported in 2019.
“These bills are attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” she adds. “Transgender kids want the opportunity to play sports for the same reasons other kids do: to be a part of a team where they feel like they belong. Proponents of these bills argue that they are protecting women. As a woman who has played sports my whole life, I know that the threats to women’s and girls’ sports are lack of funding, resources and media coverage; sexual harassment; and unequal pay.
“I know what it feels like to be singled out and treated differently,” continues Rapinoe. “No one should be treated unfairly because of who they are — and that is especially true of kids. Adults can’t pretend that we care about the well-being of children while actively creating environments that cause serious harm to them. We can’t make demands for a false sense of fairness while ignoring the actual needs of women and girls.”
Rapinoe, an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a nonprofit advocating for LGBTQ inclusion in sports, was one of 176 female Olympic, professional, and collegiate- and high school-level athletes who recently signed onto an amicus brief from Athlete Ally urging the federal courts to rule that a ban on transgender athletes in Idaho — currently blocked from taking effect — is unconstitutional.
Some of the other signatories to the brief include: tennis legend Billie Jean King; Candace Parker, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s basketball; Megan Duggan, a retired hockey player and former member of Team USA; and Esther Lofgren, a gold medal-winning Olympic rowing medalist.
In her op-ed, Rapinoe references the amicus brief, noting that many women athletes support transgender inclusion in sports, contrary to messages from social conservatives that transgender females pose a risk to female athletes’ ability to compete fairly. She also calls on other cisgender women to stand up for transgender athletes, calling the bills working their way through state legislatures “an attack on the humanity and belonging of trans people.”
“Discrimination hurts everyone. We’re stronger as teams, and as a country, when all people who love sports have a chance to have their lives changed for the better, just like I did,” she concludes. “I want every transgender kid out there to know that they can live their dreams and be true to who they are. For them to realize those dreams, they need to be allowed to play.”
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