Top athletes, including Martina Navratilova, take a stand against Texas bathroom bill

“Bills like SB6 only make life more challenging for our transgender youth.”

Martina Navratilova of the U.S. holds the winners trophy after she and Bob Bryan won the mixed doubles championship over Kveta Peschke and Martin Damm of the Czech Republic at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006. CREDIT: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Martina Navratilova of the U.S. holds the winners trophy after she and Bob Bryan won the mixed doubles championship over Kveta Peschke and Martin Damm of the Czech Republic at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006. CREDIT: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

While the sports community at large is busy filling out its March Madness brackets, top athletes across the country are continuing a welcome trend by taking a stand on an important political issue.

This time, they’re speaking out against Senate Bill 6 in Texas, legislation similar to North Carolina’s HB2, which requires transgender people to use bathrooms that correlate to their biological sex, not their gender identity.

Since both the NCAA and NBA have moved significant games away from North Carolina due to the discriminatory nature of HB2, the connection between this bill and the sports world is clear: Texas might lose next year’s men’s Final Four if SB6 is enacted.

But these star athletes know that this issue is much bigger than a sporting event.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to live life as their true and authentic self,” tennis legend Martina Navratilova said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress by Athlete Ally. “Research suggests that over half of transgender youth have been forced to use a locker room or bathroom that conflicts with their gender identity — and bills like SB6 only make life more challenging for our transgender youth.”

While SB6 isn’t a law yet, it’s well on its way.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate voted 21–6 to give the legislation initial approval. There are a few remaining steps before it reaches the desk of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, but if it does get there, the staunch conservative has made it clear that he will sign it into law.

In other words, the time to resist is now, which is why nearly 50 athletes joined Navratilova and Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending homophobia in sports, signed the “open letter to Texas.”

Texas can choose to uphold the values of sport by rejecting SB6 and other anti-LGBT bills, and the negative impact they would have. These bills are answers in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. SB6 isolates, excludes, and others the transgender community and exacerbates many of the issues transgender Texans already face. The only solution that embodies the spirit of sport is to expand equality by embracing diversity. That diversity is inclusive of the LGBT community and is why we hope you will do the right thing and reject these discriminatory bills.

WNBA stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, soccer star Robbie Rogers (and the only openly gay player on a men’s pro sports team in America), and former NFL players Chris Kluwe and David Kopay were among those who added their name to the message.

For Stewart, who plays in the relatively progressive WNBA, signing this letter was a way to fight “for a world that’s inclusive and respectful of players, coaches and fans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Notably, the open letter also addresses other anti-LGBT legislation floating around in Texas’s legislature, including one that would prevent gay marriage and others that would allow campus groups and health care professionals to discriminate against LGBTQ people. It looks at the big picture — which certainly includes, but isn’t at all limited to, sports.

“Today, the athletic community made it clear that SB6 is counter to the values of sport, and that all Texans — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — deserve equal respect and protection on the playing field, in the locker room, and under the law,” Hudson Taylor, the executive director of Athlete Ally, said.

Since this bill isn’t a law yet, the Women’s Final Four will still be held in Dallas in two weeks. But if SB6 has its way, that might be the last major sporting event held in the state for quite some time.

But while it might be tempting to focus on the $135 million that Texas could lose if San Antonio is stripped of the 2018 men’s Final Four, it’s far more important to focus on the devastating impact this law could have on transgender people.

“Through this open letter we’re standing up for every transgender child in Texas that’s worried what this bill might mean for them,” Navratilova said.