Everybody from hospital and pharmacy staff to the grocery store and delivery workers is working tirelessly to provide our communities with the care and supplies we need to survive. All government officials should be working just as hard to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with real solutions for working families whose lives have been interrupted. That’s why it seems absurd to us that state lawmakers in Idaho have been forced to spend time addressing a bill that aims to stop children from playing games.
If House Bill 500 is passed into law, Idaho would be the first state in the nation to exclude transgender students from being able to play school sports as who they are. But Idaho is not alone. From Arizona to Alabama, bills just like House Bill 500 that are designed by special interest groups to discriminate against trans student-athletes are being actively pushed in statehouses and voted on right now, while average Americans are focused on caring for their loved ones and worrying about their economic security in the midst of an escalating public health crisis.
The absurdity of this effort, in addition to the cruel impact it would have on some of our most vulnerable youth, is why we’re calling on Idaho Governor Brad Little to veto one of these bills that was just forced through, and for my peers in every state to stop these bills in their tracks: we have to send a message to the country, loud and clear, that we simply don’t have the luxury for this kind of nonsense politics, and we won’t indulge in it now.
It’s not that sports don’t matter. In a season when millions of Americans expected to be cheering on March Madness and now find themselves reeling as sports stars announce their diagnosis with this virus, we are all aware of the central role sports play in our culture. Those empty stadiums leave an empty space in our hearts. But that loss should make us all the more sympathetic with the kids who these bills target, who just want the same thing from athletics as their peers: to get and stay healthy, be part of a team, and enjoy a sense of belonging with their teammates.
Being forced onto the sidelines would be devastating to already marginalized youth — and it’s even worse when that exclusion comes at the hand of the government and schools that are supposed to care for them. The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, has found that 78 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity and 76 percent of all LGBTQ youth felt that the recent political climate impacted their mental health or sense of self. With bills like this that treat transgender student-athletes like political footballs, you can bet it will have a negative impact.
However, The Trevor Project also found that LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40 percent less likely to report a suicide attempt. For many young athletes, that accepting person might well be a coach. School is hard enough for transgender students, who too often deal with bullying and exclusion because of their gender identity. No student would pretend to be transgender just to join a sports team. And no child should be singled out for discrimination or invasive and unscientific “exams” based on stereotypes — but that’s exactly what these bills would do.
And it’s entirely unnecessary. Our schools and coaches are not the ones asking for these bills, because they know from experience that we can maintain a level playing field and still include transgender students. Twenty-five states have successfully implemented policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate with their peers, while also ensuring that boys can’t join a girls’ sports team. This isn’t a real problem; it’s a myth being spread to divide us. Especially in today’s environment, we need to know the difference.
If this coronavirus crisis is teaching us anything, it is how to hold on to the things that really matter: coming together as a community; caring for the isolated and disenfranchised; trusting in science; and showing compassion. Let’s take those lessons, and apply them to our politics. Reject these bills, then get to work on solving real problems. And let the kids play.
John McCrostie (he/him) is an Idaho State Representative and Sam Brinton (they/them) is Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project.