Trans women in sports is not a fairness issue, it’s a political one
Swearengin is an author, emotional & spiritual well-being coach, podcaster and content creator through his social media presence as Unconventional Pastor Paul. He talks religion and politics at times joined by his wife Ashley, a former elected official and community leader. Find him at Pastor-Paul.com.
The issue of trans women competing in women’s athletics has stirred up intense conversation - and 556 pieces of proposed legislation across forty-nine American states. But is this truly a fairness issue, as some can logically argue? Or is it political culture rhetoric crushing a chance to "love our neighbors"?
I'm a fan of women's athletics. I was a sportscaster in the 90's when federal enforcement of Title IX forced colleges to provide fair athletic opportunity for females. History has borne out the positive impact of that legislation. Yet, the numbers simply don't support the narrative that trans women are the new threat to those hard-earned athletic opportunities.
Save Women's Sports, an anti-trans organization, identified only five transgender athletes competing on school girls teams for grades K-12 in 2022. Estimates say maybe as few as a dozen trans females are competing in women’s collegiate athletics. That's a total of seventeen athletes. Is that number worth the hub-bub of more than five-hundred pieces of legislation, including one in the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives?
The irony here is that those who are now championing this legislation to "save women's sports" are of the same ideology of those who opposed Title IX enforcement, categorizing it as “taking money away from the boys when girls don't even want to play.” That hypocrisy, and the sheer volume of legislative actions, tell us this is a political culture war issue. And since, sincere-hearted people can think they are caring for women, we must speak up of how that support is being used for a bevy of rights-crushing laws that include everything from criminalizing parents who offer gender affirming health care to their children (as well as a few states attempting to eliminate that care for adults) to legalizing trans discrimination in employment, housing and basic human rights.
"Doesn't an athlete who went through male puberty present a physical danger to biologically female athletes?"
Perhaps, yet few can point to actual instances where a trans woman has caused a severe sports injury specifically due to birth gender differences. My limited research shows that by far the most serious injuries in women’s sports happen in cheerleading, where no interpersonal violence occurs at all. The greatest threat of serious injury or even death in women's sports is a softball from the bat or arm of a bio-born woman.
The sad part of this is that sports has been so groundbreaking through people like Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King and Tiger Woods. Yet, the arguments of fairness have persisted through the ages to exclude marginalized people from sports and to ostracize groups of them.
Many proclaimed it unfair that "pretty Chrissy Evert" had to compete against that "muscular" Martina Navratilova - a thinly veiled homophobic shot at the skillful and powerful Navratilova. Similar words have been spoken about Serena Williams or Britney Griner, as well men like football player Jim Brown or college superstar hoopster Patrick Ewing. We must take caution in allowing anecdotal stories of genetically caused unfairness to be used for exclusion, all the while knowing that injuries are an unfortunate and largely unavoidable component of sports, as well as genetic differences for all gender identities.
Righting wrongs always carries a cost. Accepting trans female athletes will inevitably squeeze some women out of college athletic scholarships. Were it my daughter that lost a scholarship to a trans woman I can honestly say we’d grieve the loss, but also know that our sacrifice for the affirmation of the humanness of nearly two-million Americans is worth the cost. In nearly every human spiritual tradition, there's a version of the Christian edict to “love your neighbor as yourself” and in each of these religious traditions “love” carries a cost. Trans women are more likely to self-harm than almost any other people group in our country. Shouldn't a "pro-life" be willing to sacrifice to keep others alive?
And the numbers will be very small. Remember, these are not men throwing on skirts and saying, “I’m a female athlete now.” The transition of genders takes long months of care and hard work through the red tape of the American healthcare system. The idea that males are going to transition simply to get a scholarship in female athletics costing women hundreds of scholarships is patently absurd.
As for loving our trans neighbors, it may be that Utah's Republican Governor Spencer Cox said it best:
"I struggle to understand... and the science is conflicting," Cox wrote as he described why he vetoed an anti-trans athlete bill that had come to his desk. "When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion."
Cox went on to explain that the bill was addressing four kids out of 85,000 Utah school aged athletes (only one of whom was playing girl’s sports).
"Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something," Cox continued. "Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through... But I want them to live. And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly... I hope we can work to find ways to show these four kids that we love them and they have a place in our state."
The next day, the Republican dominated legislature overrode Cox's veto and banned trans athletes from participating in girl's sports. I guess they don't consider trans people to be their "neighbors".
The fury over trans athletes is not a fairness issue. It's political people demonizing a people group in order to acquire political power - and I have 556 legislative receipts to prove it.