Thus far in 2021, more than 20 states have introduced legislation that penalizes transgender athletes for participating in school sports if they play on a team that aligns with their gender identity. A bill recently presented in Minnesota is the first to propose criminal penalties for such young people.
Specifically, a transgender girl (which the bill disparagingly refers to as male, a definition simplistically defined by the presence of an X and Y chromosome) would be guilty of a petty misdemeanor if she tries out for a girls' team. Transgender girls who use girls' locker rooms would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
In Minnesota, a petty misdemeanor is considered a noncriminal infraction, but may show up on background checks and include monetary fines of several hundred dollars. A misdemeanor is a criminal infraction, on par with assault, prostitution and vandalism, punishable by up to 90 days imprisonment and monetary fines.
Those of us who have played high school sports know the value they can bring to our communities and to the young people who participate in them. Young people who play sports experience improved self-esteem, higher life satisfaction and lower psychological distress. They are more likely to be physically active and have higher endurance and stamina. At their best, sports help young people find a sense of community, conquer meaningful challenges and find reasons to feel good about who they are.
This is especially critical for transgender youths, who are an already marginalized population. Transgender youths have a high risk of poor mental health outcomes when they are not supported in their gender identity, with suicide attempts as high as 14-49%. However, when transgender youths are supported by their families, friends and communities, they thrive: These young people have levels of depression similar to that of their cisgender peers.
It is the experience of minority stress, discrimination and stigma that lead to poor outcomes for transgender youths, not the fact of being transgender.
Despite the growing number of bills targeting transgender youths in sports, there is no evidence that transgender girls playing on girls' teams is harmful or detrimental. In fact, the creators of these bills themselves are unable to find examples supporting their case in the state of Minnesota. This fabricated problem is based on the bigotry and fears of anti-trans activists.
Even in the event that a transgender athlete wanted to participate in high school sports, there is no evidence that she would have any type of biological advantage over her cisgender peers.
There is, however, evidence that transgender youths are bullied, harassed, beaten and ostracized. This legislation only increases the climate of transphobia that young people endure. That is why we, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association, the National PTA, the Child Welfare League of America, the American School Counselor Association and others, oppose HF 1657 and its counterparts across the nation.
The proposed legislation is a hateful distraction, an imagined problem created only to politicize the lives of transgender youths. This bill does nothing to support girls' sports, but it does everything to exclude and victimize an already vulnerable group of students. Minnesotans pride ourselves on our kindness and compassion. So let's spend our time and energy focusing on what truly matters: How can we support all our students, all our athletes, and all of our young people? Hate-based legislation like this is certainly not the answer.
Katy Miller is assistant professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota. Rhamy Magid is medical director, Pediatric Gender and Sexual Health Clinic, Hennepin Healthcare. Christopher Dunne is clinical lead of Gender Health, Children's Minnesota. Angela Kade Goepferd is chief of staff and medical director of Gender Health, Children's Minnesota. Kelsey Leonardsmith is director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Transgender Hormone Care Program, Family Tree Clinic.