“These girls just wanted to run”

This, by Esther Wang for Jezebel, is a superb piece of journalism. It’s about the war on trans girls currently being waged by the US religious right both in the US and over here and it does something rare: it tells you about the trans girls at the centre of the moral panic over trans women in sports.

…shortly after Andraya placed third in the state’s girls’ outdoor 100-meter competition, the rightwing outrage machine zeroed in on the then-15-year-old as its next target. The New York Post and newspapers in the U.K., where a rabid transphobia pushed by groups like Fair Play for Women was flourishing, began writing about her. Adult men ranted about her in YouTube videos with titles like “How to Stop Andraya Yearwood from Beating Girls for Three More Years.” The next year, after Terry Miller—another Black trans girl in Connecticut whom Andraya would befriend—began running and at times winning races in their state, the attacks on Andraya, and now Terry as well, only intensified.

The article is very good on the clear links between the extremely powerful and rich Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBT+ hate group, and the people trying to ban trans girls from sports.

It’s also very good at pointing out that the young women supposedly losing to sinister trans people are also losing to tons of cisgender girls too.

In 2018, after Terry and Andraya won gold and silver, respectively, in the state’s girls 100-meter event, Bianca Stanescu, the disgruntled mother of the girl who finished in sixth place in that race, circulated a petition during meets that called for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference to change its policy on trans athlete participation. Though Stanescu’s daughter, Selina Soule, had lost to three other girls in addition to Andraya and Terry, Stanescu and Selina focused solely on the two trans girls. The mother-daughter duo became regular guests on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, which was soon flooded with content that warned girls like Andraya and Terry would “destroy” girls’ and women’s sports.

The idea that trans women would destroy women’s sports has been a right-wing trope since the 1970s and it simply hasn’t happened. Trans people have been able to compete in the Olympics for two decades; not a single trans athlete qualified for the last Olympic Games and there has never been a trans Olympic medal winner. You don’t hear about the majority of trans athletes who are not winning anything.

Spreading the (false) idea that trans girls are a threat to other girls’ sports and doing so by forging alliances with supposedly feminist groups is one of the tactics described in the 2017 meeting of religious right groups who decided to target trans people after losing their battle against equal marriage.

Few people seemed to care that while she and Terry were good runners—at times very good, medal-winning runners on the state-wide level—their best times in races like the 100-meters weren’t close to cracking the top results nationwide for girls their age. Other girls, a lot of cisgender girls, were faster, were better. Even in Connecticut, Andraya and Terry weren’t the only competitors who bested Selina in races. No one was talking about the supposed “competitive advantage” of those girls, or talking about how they had “stolen” something from Selina.

…[former athletics head] Niehoff noted that a few other trans athletes, including trans girls, were competing in Connecticut at the same time, but with far less scrutiny. “Nobody’s paying attention to the transgender student-athlete that’s not winning the medals,” she said. At competitions, she encountered parents of athletes who jeered at Andraya and Terry from the stands. “Is that the direction we want to go or do we want to be supportive and encouraging so that a young person goes through high school and comes out with some personal strength and a healthy self-esteem and a positive outlook?” Niehoff said. It was, she said, “horrible to see the lack of class, the lack of empathy, the lack of maturity by the adults.”

That lack of empathy was the result of a deliberate strategy.

Andraya’s success came at the worst possible time for girls like her—a moment when trans girls and women competing in sports were quickly becoming the focus of the religious right’s efforts to legislate trans people out of public life, a coordinated assault that relied on a calculated partnership with so-called trans-exclusionary radical feminists and co-opting feminist rhetoric. After Christian conservatives lost their fight over marriage equality in 2015, they quickly pivoted to attacking trans rights, turning to collectively push for so-called bathroom bills in earnest the following year. When those failed, said Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, “Our opponents started to shift very strategically to the areas of sports and healthcare for trans youth.”

One of the things that’s really saddening about this is that much of the transatlantic hate traffic is coming from the UK. Arguments and bullshit first spouted by UK anti-trans groups have made it across the Atlantic where they are being amplified by the Religious Right and conservative pundits, and dark money from the Religious Right makes the return journey to the UK.

The need to “save” girls sports—merely the latest variation of the “save our (white) children” rhetoric that has long animated rightwing social movements—fed neatly into an existing, paternalistic moral panic about trans young people, stirred up by writers like the Wall Street Journal’s Abigail Shrier, whose book Irreversible Damage warns absurdly of the “transgender craze” that is “seducing our daughters.”

The ADF is a key part of all of this, and deeply connected to the anti-trans legal cases in the UK. Their goal is not to protect anybody. It’s to drive trans people out of existence. They are attacking trans people on multiple fronts: in anti-discrimination provision, in healthcare, in access to public facilities, in schools and in sports.

In many states, as Republican legislators push to ban trans girls from sports, they are also simultaneously introducing bills that criminalize gender-affirming care for trans youth. Collectively, these bills represent “the most relentless legislative attacks on trans lives that I have ever seen,” according to the ACLU’s Strangio. Lately, Strangio has taken to calling them “dystopian,” a characterization that is particularly apt for the bills proposing the creation of sex verification boards that would scrutinize a young athlete’s genitals, chromosomal make-up, and hormone levels.

…Cut through the “fairness” rhetoric that dresses these bills up in the hopes of making them palatable, and what lies underneath is, as Strangio put it, “a fundamental dislike and anxiety about the presence of trans people in the world.” “We’re seeing a revitalization of a sort of eugenics discourse around the abolition of the trans person and the idea that transness is itself a threat,” Strangio said. “The masks are off, so to speak.”