Alexander & Buening: Your Transphobia Doesn’t Protect Women’s Sports


Carlene Coombs

Protestors hold hearts towards transgender youth sitting on the steps of the Utah State Capitol on March 24, 2022. (Photo by Carlene Coombs | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander and Sarah Buening


The Utah State Legislature recently overrode Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of H.B. 11. The policy prohibits transgender athletes from competing on high school teams aligned with their gender identity.

In the wake of Lia Thomas, a trans woman competing in collegiate-level swimming, states across the country have implemented transphobic laws to supposedly “protect women and girls sports.” But as two women and former athletes, we’re here to tell you that the notion of protecting women’s sports from trans domination is a weak, flawed justification for transphobic sentiments.

If legislators cared about women’s sports, they would start by addressing our wage inequality or the prevalence of assault. Injustices which, if they cared, have prevailed for much longer than athletes like Lia Thomas have competed. Excluding trans athletes from sports does not protect women. Arguments about biological advantage and unfairness do not hold up within an athletic realm built upon genetic advantages. Lawmakers and critics should stop fabricating false and damaging narratives around trans participation and instead embrace progress toward a more inclusive future for sports.

Flaws in the Argument

Sports, by their nature, have never been fair. Having something uniquely different about one’s body is what gives athletes a competitive advantage. Athletes like Michael Phelps are genetic anomalies, with bodies seemingly handcrafted for their sports. His advantage in swimming is miles ahead of any potential advantage a trans athlete might have. But he’s allowed to compete because he’s cisgender.

Brittney Griner, the 6’9” WNBA player who towers over men and women alike, yet no one prohibits her from competing either. Why do we celebrate these athletes’ genetic differences, but scorn others? We obviously cannot police every single biological advantage. But policing based on gender alone is not only unfair — it doesn’t make sense. Gender is a social construct. You can’t restrict genetic diversity to two broad categories, especially with distinctions that depend so heavily upon socialization and presentation.

In Lia Thomas’s case, look at the data. No evidence indicates that she performed any differently than the other women. Thus, experiencing male puberty did not have the drastic effect many claim it did. Nor does letting trans people compete further endanger any other competitor.

Every sport, particularly the more violent, bears the risk of injury. Cis athletes dominate and injure other athletes all the time, so stop cherry-picking instances that happen to involve trans athletes. It’s hypocritical. Trans athletes already comply with strict hormone regulations, and not everyone who competes blows out records. On that note, it’s sad that we need to prove that trans athletes “aren’t even that good” to get the point across. While their so-called domination has been grossly over-exaggerated, trans athletes are just as worthy of gold as any other athlete.

And most high schoolers tend to agree with us. H.B. 11 impacts high school sports across our state, but legislators fail to consider what students want. West High’s students, for instance, staged a walkout in protest against the bill.

Transphobia in Action

Implementing transphobic policies not only suppresses and eradicates transgender competition but undermines and opposes the existence of transgender people as a whole. Anti-trans bills are just another way that lawmakers exercise their homophobic and transphobic beliefs, but these policies have real consequences. Consider Becky, a transgender middle-schooler running cross-country, or a 15-year-old trans student-athlete here in Utah — both of whom seek support, community and a way to play. For many kids, sports offer a way to find friends and get involved. But when we actively exclude or ridicule trans youth for their participation in sports, we send a clear message of transphobia.

Abraham Francis, a University of Utah student who is trans, told us his own horrifying experiences at his former high school. “If we played a school that had either a trans man or woman on the team, we had to forfeit,” Francis said. “We weren’t allowed to play them … What message does that send to the kids? Especially the kids at the other school who were like, ‘Well it’s my fault that they forfeited and we’re not able to play today.’”

For trans kids, who already deal with bullying, ostracization and incredibly high rates of suicide, sports are a much-needed outlet to build confidence and reduce depression. It’s brave enough that trans youth have the courage to pursue who they are, now let them pursue what they love to do.

More Inclusive Sports

We shouldn’t limit athletic participation to rigid biological sex distinctions. Gendered sports reinforce the same unfair advantages that exist across our society. Allowing broader access to sports moves us toward greater equality. And especially at non-professional levels, sports have no need for segregation. Rather, we should each make a conscious effort to accept trans competitors for who they are. The value of sports doesn’t lie in winning — it lies in community building, activity and inclusion.

Legislators need to stop justifying their bigotry in policies that “protect women,” because, these policies harm all women. We don’t need the interference of more white, male legislators. What we need is support and compassion.

We love sports and the experiences we’ve had within them, but that’s no excuse to hold games in higher esteem than inclusivity, human decency and safety. We throw those values out the window when we choose to deny trans people the same opportunities to enjoy what sports have to offer.

So, don’t use us as pawns in transphobic pursuits. Let trans women and men compete in sports.


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