- The Magazine
Two top LGBTQ advocacy organizations have launched a campaign to celebrate transgender athletes while raising money to combat the proliferation of anti-transgender sports bans being enacted in various states throughout the country.
The “Stack the Deck Against Hate” campaign, a joint project of Lambda Legal and Athlete Ally, is creating 1,000 limited-edition decks of trading cards featuring four transgender athletes: Mack Beggs, a two-time state wrestling champion in Texas and one of the transgender athletes spotlighted in Hulu’s Changing the Game documentary; Fallon Fox, the first openly trans professional mixed martial artist; Patricio “Pat” Manuel, the first male transgender boxer in U.S. history and five-time national amateur boxing champion; and Grace Siobahn McKenzie, a player for the Golden Gate Women’s Rugby Football Club. Each card features information about the personal stories of the trans athletes featured in the deck.
In an interesting twist, the trading cards are made from copies of anti-transgender bills that were shredded and then recycled. To obtain one of the 1,000 decks, people can visit stackthedeckagainsthate.org and donate to Lambda Legal to be entered into a drawing to win one.
There is no donation limit, and funds raised will go towards the organization’s public education and litigation efforts. Organizers also hope that the decks will raise awareness of transgender athletes and send a message to trans youth in states pushing anti-transgender legislation that they and their accomplishments are valued and that shouldn’t be legislated out of public life.
“This campaign was a reaction to what we saw playing out in the state legislative season, which essentially had hundreds of discriminatory bills introduced in like 33 states. I think it was over 120 bills, which made it really the worst year on record for anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks,” Carl Charles, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, says.
“Most of those bills were geared at trans children playing sports or trans children trying to access gender-affirming medical care. So it was really an unprecedented year in that regard.
“The idea was to create a campaign that would not just raise awareness of this really bad thing that’s happening, but would generate positive opportunities for education and conversation,” adds Charles. “And the Stack the Deck Against Hate campaign does so in a way that also serves as a fundraiser.
“It also plays on some positive nostalgia: A lot of people used to collect sports cards. Some people still do. But I think it was at least bigger for me in the ’90s when I was growing up. Even people who didn’t collect sports cards collected other things when they were growing up, like Pokémon cards and Pogs. And so this is a play on that as well.”
Seven different states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, and West Virginia — have passed legislation this year to restrict transgender athletes from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity, following the example set by Idaho last year. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed an executive order into effect that also imposes a similar ban.
Lambda Legal is currently challenging the West Virginia law in court on behalf of an 11-year-old cross country runner who wants to try out for the girls’ team at her middle school. Other organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union or the Human Rights Campaign, have either sued or plan to sue other states over their anti-transgender sports bans.
“Stack the Deck Against Hate comes at a crucial moment as transgender and nonbinary athletes and students across the country are being attacked by legislators seeking to further degrade and ultimately erase them,” Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings said in a statement. “This campaign will send a strong and important message to trans athletes across the country: You are valued and will never be legislated out of existence.”
“Transgender youth play sports for the same reason as their cisgender friends: for the invaluable lessons on teamwork, discipline and leadership, and the incredible mental, physical and social benefits that sports bring,” Hudson Taylor, the executive director of Athlete Ally, added. “The Stack the Deck campaign supports access to the lifesaving power of sports, and every young person deserves a chance to thrive.”
“When they first came to me with the concept, they were talking about how the cards are going to be like little baseball cards,” Beggs told Metro Weekly in an interview. “And I was like, ‘I’ll stop you there. I love the idea.’ I think it is amazing. It reminds me of when I was a kid, when I would go to the baseball games or the Rangers games with my uncle and I would get the baseball cards. And I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And the concept of like using the shredded bills and having them repackaged into these cards was really heartwarming. I thought that this is going to be such a great thing for future generations, to be able to have access to this.
“I’m hoping that even though there’s a limited amount of decks, the exposure itself and the implication of the severity of this problem,” he added. “It’s really a conversation on allowing trans athletes into sports. There’s change going on, and people really need to recognize that. Every campaign, whether it be little or big, it matters. And changing the narrative during these tough time, especially with these anti-trans bills circulating around the United States, and even how trans people are treated, in general, globally. I think it’s a good thing that people wanted to get behind this type of campaign and this type of discussion, just shows that people do care about trans athletes, and that trans athletes belong.”
McKenzie, another one of the featured athletes, told Metro Weekly she was approached by representatives from Campbell Ewald, the design studio behind the campaign, who had seen her Instagram and read about her advocacy on behalf of transgender inclusion in sports.
“I’m honestly over the moon, because I’m in the company of real professional athletes and I’m a community level rugby player,” said McKenzie. “I’ve been a lifelong sports fan and I was a trading card collector when I was younger. And in the way that you idolize or look up to your role model athletes, the athletes you follow, I think having a piece of their merchandise or having some sort of representation of that fandom, can be very powerful.
“For example, I was a big Sidney Crosby fan in hockey, and of Steve Nash, or Sue Bird, from the Seattle Storm [in the WNBA]. Having that merchandise is like owning the jersey of your favorite player. You feel connected to them in some kind of way,” McKenzie added. “So the trading cards are a nostalgic call back to those days when people would collect and trade cards and build up these sets of cards that represented the athletes they really admired and looked up to. I really love being part of a tradition like that.”
Pointing to the slew of anti-trans legislation introduced this year, McKenzie said political attempts to erase transgender people from public life can have devastating consequences for the mental health and well-being of transgender children, and hopes that the campaign will let trans youth know they are not alone by producing something tangible that educates them about the accomplishments of transgender athletes.
“I hope this campaign will inspire [trans youth] to see themselves in sports in the future as a trans person, because there are athletes like myself and others out there who are doing it and who are thriving and who are successful,” she said. “I hope it leaves this legacy of hope for these individuals, these children, so they can see a future for themselves and think twice before potentially considering harming themselves, or so it can help them fight some of the depression and marginalization that they face in their daily lives.”
She hopes the educational component of the campaign may be able to sway public opinion by putting a “human face” on the issue of trans inclusion in sports.
“When you attach a human face to the concept of trans athletes, it becomes easier to empathize with our experience and our struggles and the cause. My own experience, in talking about this issue so widely, is that even for folks who are vehemently transphobic, if you have a conversation with them and you demonstrate your humanity, breakthrough moments do happen and people do change their stripes,” said McKenzie.
“I’ve seen people go from being opponents to trans inclusion to becoming serious allies because they know that one trans person and they can think about them as a human who does deserve to have rights. So that, to me, is the best way for us to make progress and to change hearts and minds of the decision-makers in places that are not friendly to trans people right now.”
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