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No, Allowing Transgender Athletes To Compete Won’t Destroy Women’s Sports

Gabrielle Ludwig, a transgender Army veteran, made history in 2012 when she joined Mission College’s women’s basketball team. CREDIT: AP Photo/Noah Berger
Gabrielle Ludwig, a transgender Army veteran, made history in 2012 when she joined Mission College’s women’s basketball team. CREDIT: AP Photo/Noah Berger

When the NBA decided last month to move the All-Star Game out of Charlotte, it was standing with the transgender people who are discriminated against by North Carolina’s HB2. The move has inspired conservatives, however, to now attack trans people not only for what locker room they can use, but what sport they might play when they leave it.

Their primary argument, which is not new, is that trans athletes would have a competitive advantage. For example, writing at the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, Melody Wood suggested that it “could be unfair” if the WNBA ever let transgender women play in that league. Not only would the trans women have some kind of advantage when it comes to jumping and dunking, such inclusion “may eventually lead to the demise of women’s sports as a unique venue where women can compete and win fairly.”

But plenty of other prominent athletic leagues have instituted policies for allowing transgender athletes to compete with others have the same gender, including the NCAA and the Olympics. Both simply require that athletes have undergone at least one year of hormone replacement therapy. That’s because it’s the hormones that matter, and research has shown that trans athletes lose any competitive advantage they might have had after hormones begin to make changes to their bodies, such as to their muscle mass. A recent study specifically confirmed this result in transgender runners.

But some, like Focus on the Family’s political arm, the Family Policy Alliance (formerly CitizenLink), are trying to put a new spin on this old argument, claiming that it’s not only athletically unfair, but that it also infringes on women’s rights. The #AskMeFirst campaign demands that transgender people seek permission from women before they enter women’s spaces or play women’s sports. The answer, of course, will be no. “ We are standing together to share our stories with you,” it reads. “Together we say, Ask Me First. We’ll tell you why these efforts are anti-woman, how they directly harm each of us, and why politicians should never consider bringing them forward.” (It doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of transgender men, let alone demand they seek similar permissions from anybody for anything.)

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The campaign, a collection of mostly anonymous anecdotes, features Tanner, a record-setting high school track athlete from Alaska. She objects to the fact that a trans girl was allowed to compete in the girls’ state championships. “No one asked me,” she says in the video. “I was never asked if it was okay for that to happen, period.”

It doesn’t matter that Tanner out-ran the trans athlete, she says, because that runner prevented a different cisgender girl from competing. “It’s not fair scientifically,” she insisted, because “obviously, male and female are made differently and there are certain races for males and certain races for females, and I believe it should stay that way.”

Anti-LGBT radio host Michael Brown sounded a similar warning about “fairness” for women in sports earlier this summer when the NBA partnered with GLSEN to sell Pride Month t-shirts. “What if, say, Shaquille O’Neal in his prime came out as transgender, changing his name to Shanita?” Brown asked. “He would have become the greatest women’s player in history, smashing all records and dominating all games.”

The WNBA does not have a stipulated policy either allowing or banning transgender women from draft eligibility. A spokesperson for the league has previously acknowledged, however, that there is no requirement that a WNBA player be someone who was assigned female at birth. The WNBA confirmed to ThinkProgress that this continues to be the case, and thus, there’s nothing stopping a trans woman from being drafted. But that’s not the only reason these conservatives’ concerns fall flat.

As it is, the WNBA has no policy regarding how “womanly” a woman’s body must be in order to fairly compete. When Brittney Griner first started playing for the WNBA, her size and stature — 6′ 8″, just like LeBron James, but with bigger hands— was the subject of much discourse. A profile of Griner in Elle noted several other sizeable WNBA stars, like Dewanna Bonner and Lynetta Kizer, who are both 6′ 4″ and tower over the average woman. These women might still be shorter than Shaq’s 7′ 1″, but they’re not particularly shorter than the average NBA player (which is 6′ 7″).

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In a sense, conservatives claiming that trans people would have an advantage is not only wrong (because the science on hormones says they’re wrong), but also uniquely transphobic. It implies that trans people’s bodies should have to be policed when other athletes’ are not, regardless of what physical advantages they might innately have.

This attempt to deny who trans people are is likewise evident in the #AskMeFirst video. Tanner claimed that the trans runner took the place of a non-trans runner, and thus it wasn’t fair to girls. But that trans runner — Nattaphon “Ice” Wangyot — is a girl; Tanner and Focus on the Family just reject her as such.

And claiming that transgender inclusion will somehow destroy women’s sports is nothing more than a grand display of Chicken Little paranoia. As trans athletes have already demonstrated, all that happens when trans athletes are allowed to play is that trans athletes are allowed to play.