Transgender Youth: a Politicized Group


Maya Fraser

Lilee Ferguson shows off her skills Wednesday afternoon in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Maya Fraser | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Catie Quigley , News Writer


Transgender people have always existed, but as they have gained more recognition, they also face new controversies and that comes with more visibility.

During the 2021 Utah state legislative session, House Rep. Kera Birkeland introduced HB302 — a bill proposed to ban transgender girls from participating in female sports in public education.

While the bill failed to pass in the legislature, it sparked debates about the inclusion of transgender youth and intersectional feminism.

Carol is a transgender woman who has chosen to remain anonymous for this story.  She ran track and field in high school. When she participated in the boy’s category, she was No. 32 in the nation.

When she began transitioning and using hormone replacement therapy, she then qualified to participate in girls’ sports. Carol would have been the second-fastest girl in the nation for personal record times. 

She said she stopped running because she felt it was unfair to have made a jump in rankings by transitioning. 

“I have the skeletal structure I had before I did hormones, I have the lungs of someone who developed as a male, I have [the] heart of someone who developed as a male,” Carol said. “And while you will see some changes like reduction of muscle mass, softening of facial features, body hair will get more fine—certain things will not change, and to ignore those is naïve.”

One of the main arguments opposing transgender girls’ participation in sports is the biological physical differences between genders. 

Transgender youth who start hormones during puberty, or who have been on them for an extended period (18-24 months) will experience the same levels as cisgender women.  However, their skeletal structure and organs will not change, according to Mayo Clinic.

Birkeland proposed the bill because of these concerns. Birkeland is a coach of a high school girls’ basketball team. She said she sees the adversity girls face in male-dominated sports.

She said she wants to protect girls from further inequities they could face if a transgender athlete with a higher physical performance joined girls’ sports. She cited Title IX, which created girls’ athletics.

“We need to follow and uphold Title IX,” Birkeland said. “Title IX is the only way that we have women’s sports and we have women’s sports that are successful and everlasting.”

Allie Litzinger, who plays hockey for the University of Utah’s women’s hockey team, echoed this concern.

“We obviously don’t want anybody to be discriminated against by any means, but we also feel like its kind of close to our hearts as female athletes who have come so far to just get any women’s sports on the board,” Litzinger said.

About 43% of transgender youth are suicidal, according to the Trevor Project. Trans youth are subject to increased levels of bullying, with 22% of young trans women in the U.S. having to leave their school because of harassment.

Trans advocates who voiced concerns over the bill referenced the systemic barriers they face in everyday life. According to Utah State Report, 30% of transgender people have faced some sort of housing discrimination due to gender.  Unemployment rates among transgender adults are higher, according to the 2015 report.

Sophie Sego, a transgender woman from Utah, said this type of legislation impacted her mental health even though it failed to pass.

She said hearing about the bill made her question her place in society. 

“It’s like, ‘oh wow, really there’s a lot of people out there who don’t like me, who don’t want me to be alive, who don’t want me to have a place in society or try to integrate,’” Sego said.      

Ermiya Fanaeian is a transgender woman and a trans activist. She is the director of diversity for the student body at the U, and said it’s important to have intersectionality in feminism.  

She pointed out transgender rights are women’s issues and have historically been excluded in white feminism.  

“When we talk about [trans rights] in this feminist lens, we have to understand that because we typically associate feminism and women’s liberation with cis upper-class white women, we forget all of these other issues are still very much women’s issues, and they very much can and will still control women in every other sense,” Fanaeian said. 

Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox also refused to sign the bill. During a press conference, Cox said trans youth are trying to survive.

“These kids are, they are just trying to stay alive. You know, there is a reason none of them are playing sports,” he said. “And so, I just think there is a better way, and I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution.”


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