I experienced an unsettling flashback as I read the full-page ad run by Child Protection League Action (CPLA) in this past Sunday’s Star Tribune. The purpose of the ad was to rally citizens to attend Thursday’s Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) meeting, where the issue of transgender student participation in athletics will be addressed. The CPLA forecasts a dim future for “student bodily privacy, safety, dignity and the future of athletics” if transgender students are allowed to “choose their gender team.”
Though I am not transgender, I may have some helpful insights. Some 40 years ago, I was the first girl in Minnesota to participate on a boys’ interscholastic athletic team — the tennis team at St. Cloud Tech. Fears about “bodily privacy, safety, dignity and the future of athletics” were also rampant back in 1972 when I put on the Tech Tiger warm-up and stepped out onto the court.
I would offer these three experience-informed observations to the current transgender conversation:
1) Making a way for transgender students to participate in athletics on the team that is consistent with their gender identity would not, in my opinion, dilute the privacy, safety and dignity of traditionally gendered athletes. Rather, full participation for transgender athletes endorses the notion that all student athletes deserve a fair measure of privacy, safety and dignity.
In my case, it took a federal district court judge to make that notion a matter of law. The question I ask is: Is the transgender participation issue really any different from the opposite-gender teammate issue the court addressed back in 1972?
Seemingly “insurmountable” problems of locker rooms, showers, bathrooms, hotel accommodations and the potential damage to the emotional stability of traditionally gendered athletes asked to team with nontraditionally gendered athletes are in fact hardly insurmountable. There are many reasonable options for the logistics of personal hygiene and hotel accommodations — trust me, I’ve been there.
2) As for the suggestion that the nontraditionally gendered athlete will adversely affect the emotional well-being of their traditionally gendered counterparts — trust me again. The only change observable in the psyche of my male teammates and opponents was their heightened desire not to be beaten by a girl. If anything, I inspired those guys to perform at their absolute best!
3) The prospect of losing a college scholarship to a transgender student is no reason to exclude a transgender athlete. The CPLA ad displayed a picture of a girl whose dream of a college scholarship was ostensibly “shattered” because a male took her position on an all-girl team. But the vast majority of students who fall under the jurisdiction of the league are not participating in sports because it enhances their prospects of winning a scholarship or turning pro. (If that is their goal, most high school athletes are destined for disappointment, because roughly 2 percent of them win sports scholarships at NCAA colleges or universities.)
Most students participate in athletics for other reasons. They want to learn or improve sports skills; they appreciate the life skills sports nurture — fitness, hard work, teamwork, discipline, a sense of community and pride.
The CPLA folks fear that the MSHSL will allow transgender athletes to participate on the team that is consistent with their gender identity. In big, bold letters their ad asks: “Are you willing to let this happen?”
I certainly hope we are.
Peggy Brenden lives in St. Paul