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Conservatives’ Anti-Trans Athlete Bills Are About Much More Than Sports

At a protest for transgender rights, a person holds a sign reading "Protect trans kids"

Welcome to “We Interrupt Your Brunch,” a series on all the work that remains after Donald Trump’s presidency.

This week, the day before International Transgender Day of Visibility, the Arkansas legislature passed what’s being widely recognized as the most dangerous and extreme anti-trans legislation in the nation. As 28 states weigh bills to target and dehumanize trans folks, and especially trans youth, Arkansas on Monday passed the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act, or SAFE Act, which bans access to gender-affirming care for transgender minors, including puberty blockers and hormones.

Without a doubt, the health care that the SAFE Act would ban is life-saving for trans youth, who report significantly higher rates of depression, mental health struggles, and suicide than their cisgender counterparts. As journalist Katelyn Burns has pointed out, denying trans youth the ability to transition, or “forcing your child to wear unwanted clothes, unwanted haircuts/styles, forcing unwanted pronouns on a child, and an unwanted name” amounts to “a form of conversion therapy.”

Arkansas’ SAFE Act follows a trend of anti-trans bills primarily targeting trans youth this legislative session, as states like Alabama, Minnesota, South Dakota and others focus on barring trans girls and young women from playing sports. In other words, the notoriously transphobic Trump administration may be out of power, but the conservative crusade against trans people, and especially trans youth, has only been ramping up on the state level, as state lawmakers attempt to legislate their bizarre obsession with trans kids’ genitals into dangerous, dehumanizing laws. Conservative politicians are relying on endemic transphobia to bridge party divisions and unite paranoid, transphobic cis people in general—and they’re counting on the passivity of cis people to make their dangerous agenda possible.

As usual, conservative lawmakers are citing their sudden interest in the wellness of cisgender women and girls—which exclusively arises when it’s time to demonize and attack trans people—as their motivation for these bills. To be clear, trans people have never threatened the safety of cis women in any way. On the other hand, conservative lawmakers who work overtime to pass abortion bans, defund health care, and defend rapists and abusers threaten our safety on a daily basis. It’s an oft-repeated proverb that zero trans people have been arrested sexual misconduct in bathrooms—something conservative lawmakers can’t say about themselves.

Not only is conservative fearmongering about trans youth athletes “ruining women’s sports” a manufactured crisis, it’s also transparently rooted in misgendering trans folks. The ultimate legal goal is to classify trans women and girls as male, and even more alarming, quite literally write them out of existence.

Bills like the SAFE Act amount to violent conversion therapy, ignoring that transitioning isn’t what makes someone transgender. A person is trans regardless of whether they have the resources to transition—denying these resources is about making them suffer, and in this case, specifically inflicting this suffering on kids. Bills that are meant to force trans kids out of sports are explicitly about denying kids recognition of their gender identity, and shaming and humiliating them—all despite how there has yet to be a legitimate case of inclusion of trans athletes disrupting or negatively impacting sports in any way.

The harm inflicted on trans youth by violent legislation, and violent stigma and intolerance in their homes, schools, and all around them, has lasting ramifications. The average lifespan of a trans person is 32 years, and even younger for trans people of color. Trans people are also twice as likely to live in poverty as the general population thanks to transphobia, and are often the targets of violent hate crimes and homicides.

On denying trans kids the resources to transition or be themselves, journalist Katelyn Burns continues in her aforementioned Twitter thread, “When you do that, you are teaching your child that to be good, you have to be someone else. That f*cks a child up for life. This is why trans kids have elevated rates of drug usage, and eating disorders, and concurrent mental health issues.” Challenging stigma and political attacks is crucial to address the crisis of high rates of suicide, depression and other mental health struggles among trans youth.

Conservatives have always feigned concern about the wellbeing of cis women/girls when it’s politically convenient for them, whether to promote anti-trans bathroom bills or anti-trans policies in sports. Despite casting themselves as the benevolent protectors of “real” womanhood for their anti-trans agenda, it’s conservative lawmakers who pose the real, often life-threatening harm to both cis and trans women alike. As dangerous anti-trans bills sweep state legislatures across the country, it’s not enough to be allies—we all have to be in this fight for the safety, lives, and futures of trans people, and especially trans youth.

(image: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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