EDITORIAL: An even playing field

Imagine you are left-handed, but you are forced to write with your right. Over time, your writing will become better and it will seem neat, but that itchy feeling will still be visible to you—it would still be weird and very wrong. Over time, it really starts to bug you, so you have no choice but to switch your pencil back over to your dominant hand, which feels a lot better. It feels like home and you don’t have to strain your muscles anymore. 

This constant uneasy feeling is what was described by a transgender student and something that many transgender people deal with daily. Societal pressure has forced trans youth to act like their birth-assigned gender to make others around them comfortable. Yet, there was a recent attempt to have statewide legislation that refuses to recognize trans women as who they are—women. This legislation was House Bill 1041, which would have forced three categories for sports: girls’, boys’, and integrated.

What made this bill discriminatory is that it specifically states those in the gendered categories must be in accordance with the student’s genetics and reproductive biology. The support by legislators was large enough that it passed the House and Senate before getting vetoed by Governor Holcomb who commented “[HB 1041] implies that the goals of consistency of fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met.”

Though the author of HB 1041 argued that it would have protected cisgender girls (girls whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same) from unfair competition, there is no basis to make this claim or any like it. The Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) already has a policy that states that transgender students must have completed a minimum of a year of hormone treatment related to gender transition or undergone a medically confirmed gender reassignment procedure. This eliminates any worries of an athlete falsely identifying as transgender, and there are extra tests to ensure they are on the same physical condition of their peers. 

The real reason for this bill, and those like it, are to bar future generations of trans students, which can be detrimental to their overall health. According to the Journal of Affective Disorders, transgender and gender diverse (TGD) youth are at four times greater risk of depression. A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity also found that team sports are associated with improved health outcomes due to the social nature of participation, which is what legislators fail to see. 

Social transition of TGD people is just as important as physical transition. Oftentimes, trans youth aren’t taken seriously unless they look like their assigned gender, making attempts to fit into certain boxes difficult. This is why being accepted by their peers is just as significant. It relieves the stress of having to pretend that their actions and looks align with their birth-assigned gender.

However, an issue is posed in a study done by Dr. Jack Turban who finds that, although TGD youth who undergo social transition have better short-term mental health, “they may have worse mental health in adulthood if not protected from K-12 harassment based on gender identity.” This can be avoided with more open discussions about the LGBTQIA+ topics in classrooms and allowing for more extracurriculars than GSA to be a safe space for TGD students. 

Some may not see this bill to warrant such a large jump to support the LGBTQIA+ community . But bills like HB 1041 do not only target transgender athletes, it sends a message to all TGD youth: they are not welcome. Legislation that bans the recognition of TGD students state-wide increases the chances of further harming TGD youth, and serves as yet another reminder that TGD students do not have a safe space in Indiana.