Trans girls not a threat

Judging from the news coming out of half the legislative halls of America, you would think that the biggest problem facing women’s sports hasn’t been athletes being sexually abused but girls who were born with penises taking all the glory from those born with vaginas.

Out of all the things that give one student-athlete an advantage over another — more athleticism, better equipment, talented older siblings, more money for private training — these legislatures are focused on only one: whether transgender girls and women are unfairly beating other females in various school sports.

Lawmakers in at least 25 states are seeking to ban transgender students from competing in girls’ teams in middle and high schools and in college. At least two states have made it law.

It’s conservative political grandstanding — a non-solution to an almost nonexistent problem.

Despite the anecdotes of outrage — cisgender girls who claim they would have taken more trophies home if it weren’t for transgender athletes — the science and data simply don’t bear this out. In 2018-19, about 3.4 million girls took part in high school sports. Yet complaints about transgender female athletes are incredibly rare. Legislators in most states admitted that they knew of no examples at all but were introducing the bills to stave off possible situations in the future.

Though the legislative movement is based mainly on intolerance, it has a toehold on reality. The higher levels of testosterone in those born biologically male can lead a transgender female to be taller and more muscular, which can be advantageous in some sports. Not all sports, mind you; when it comes to the flexibility needed to excel in women’s gymnastics, for example, cisgender female bodies hold the advantage.

But it’s not that simple. For those who begin transitioning before puberty, which is increasingly common, hormone therapy prevents any physical advantages. And even in those who take hormones later, the NCAA says, extra musculature and endurance dissipate within a yeart. NCAA rules prohibit trans female athletes from competing in women’s events until they have completed one year of testosterone suppression.

It’s not as though transgender women are sweeping the events. Two days after a Connecticut high schooler filed a suit seeking to ban transgender runners from girls’ track, saying she was being deprived of wins, she beat one of those runners for two championship titles. The transgender girl came in 16th in one of those races.

At the Olympic or professional level, where the stakes are higher and careers can be long-lasting, it makes sense for tight rules and testing on testosterone levels. But at the school and college level, the top priority should be inclusion, especially considering the taunting and rejection that often greet transgender youth.

Sports are a way to gain a feeling of belonging, as well as to build physical health and reduce stress. The benefit — and basic fairness — of providing that opportunity to trans female athletes vastly outweighs any rare, relatively minor boost to their performance.

* Editorial from The Los Angles Times


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