Transgender people’s ability to participate in sports, access medical care, and be protected from discrimination in housing and at school are currently being debated at all levels of government. This event discusses issues and policies related to trans rights and what is happening on the ground now.
Naomi Goldberg: Good afternoon. I'm Naomi Goldberg, chair of the Ford School Alumni Board, and the deputy director of the LGBTQ program at the Movement Advancement Project. On half of my dean, Michael Barr, the faculty and students of the Ford School, it's a great pleasure to welcome all of you to this policy talk event with Katie Barnes and Chris Mosier.
NG: Thank you to our cosponsor for today's policy talk, the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity. The institute works with talented student leaders from across the region to host the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference, the largest conference hosted by and for LGBTQIA+ college students.
NG: Katie and Chris are here to talk to me today about transgender policy issues, particularly why sports have become such a focal point for discussions about transgender people and their ability to fully participate in life. For context, despite a landmark US Supreme Court case last year recognizing that anti-trans discrimination at work is a form of illegal sex discrimination, this past state legislative cycle saw a record number of anti-trans bills proposed and passed. In particular, anti-trans legislation this year focused on two key areas: The ability of trans youth to access best practice medical care, and the ability of trans youth to play sports, bans on which passed in eight states this year alone.
NG: I'm excited to dive into these topics with two outstanding panelists, Katie Barnes and Chris Mosier. Katie Barnes is a feature writer for ESPN, covering culture, LGBTQ issues, women's basketball, collegiate softball, and women's combat sports. Since joining ESPN, Katie has written on a variety of topics such as transgender athletes, racial justice, and Hollywood stunt doubles. Their articles on high school transgender athletes have earned them two GLAAD award nominations.
NG: Our other panelist, Chris Mosier, is an athlete, coach, and founder of transathlete.com. He has achieved a slew of firsts, the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic trial in the gender in which they identify, the first openly trans man to make a men's US national team. He was instrumental in getting the International Olympic Committee policy on trans athletes changed and was the first trans athlete to compete in a world championship race under the new rules. Chris has also written and advocated for change in policy from the high school level to national governing bodies and professional leagues. He has become one of the leading grassroots organizers against the current wave of anti-trans legislation across the US and I've enjoyed working with Chris in my own work.
NG: A couple of quick notes about our format. We're going to have some time at the end of our event today for audience questions. We've received a few in advance, but you can submit your questions in the live chat on YouTube or tweet your questions to the #policytalks. With that, welcome, Katie and Chris, and thanks for being here today.
Katie Barnes: Thanks for having us.
NG: Yeah. So I thought we could just start by talking about what is going on with all of these states taking up anti-trans bills, particularly around sports. Do you see this as a coordinated effort? Who's behind it, and why is it happening?
KB: Chris, I'll let you take it first.
Chris Mosier: Okay, I'll kick it off. Yeah, so this is absolutely a coordinated effort. This is not something that is new, we've seen the anti-trans sports bills for the last two years, but actually, the first one that I'm aware of came up in 2015. And so that was in pushback to South Dakota State High School Athletic Association creating a trans-inclusive policy for high school student athletes. And when that bill did not get traction, we saw a shift to bathroom bills, and I think many people are familiar with HB2 in North Carolina in 2016 as a bathroom bill, and by "bathroom bill", I mean bills intending to ban trans people for using the restroom in the gender in which they identify. And when that also didn't take hold, we've seen this swing back to trans people and trying to police trans people's with bodies now through sports.
CM: I think this is a coordinated effort in terms of... And this is something that's been tested. So we know that people feel very passionately about sports, whether they're athletes or not. [chuckle] They have an opinion about where people should participate in sports. And so this was just, for lack of a better term, a wedge issue that politicians found resonates with their constituents and that people feel very passionately about. We've seen copy-and-paste versions of these bills, so the text is largely the same, distributed to conservative and right-leaning lawmakers across the country, and just in hopes that someone would grab and take all of it and introduce it, despite there being actually no problem with trans people participating in sports at any level of play anywhere across the country.
CM: And so we have organizations that are well-known anti-trans hate groups, Southern Poverty Law Center, the Heritage Foundation, as well as international groups like Fair Play For Women from the UK, and their US counterpart, Save Women's Sports. All of these organizations working behind the scenes to try to prevent trans people from participating safely and openly in public life.
KB: Okay, I just wanna echo what Chris said. It's definitely a coordinated effort, I think that's pretty clear. In my reporting around... And we'll talk about Connecticut I'm sure at some point, but around the lawsuit that was filed in Connecticut, it was very clear to me that the Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the major proponents of these bills and are known for arguing anti-LGBTQ positions in front of the Supreme Court and just being on the forefront of those legal actions. And they definitely consulted on Idaho when they passed their bill and have been involved in some of the behind the scenes work in terms of developing not what they would term is model legislation around this issue and encouraging folks to sample from that. So whether it's explicitly tied to some of the bills or just more in a background consulting capacity, as an organization, that's very much involved.
NG: Katie, you mentioned Connecticut, but I'm wondering, when we think about proponents of these bills, they seem to cite the same one or two examples as to why these bills are necessary. And I'm wondering both in your reporting and more broadly, what has been the experience of trans athletes in high schools and what impact have they had on their sports?
KB: So I think one thing that's important to note is then we have this conversation about transgender athletes, including those who have been successful, and that's really why folks like Connecticut, sometimes there'll be a citation of Alaska from 2016, but Connecticut is really the one that folks cite. And it is because, yes, there were two transgender girls who competed throughout their high school careers, and yes, they did win some championships, quite a few, if we're gonna be honest, about 15, and that's a lot of championships, but the Connecticut is one of... And I think Chris will have the exact number, it's fluctuated in the last couple of years, but Connecticut is one of about, I think, 17 or 18 states that has a similar policy that is inclusive of transgender athletes, and yet the only one of those states that's consistently brought up is Connecticut. And it is because there were two transgender athletes not just competing, but winning and being successful. And frankly, they weren't even the only two trans kids that were competing in sports in Connecticut at that time. And so I think that's something that's really important to note as well, is that when we look at the broader sample size, it's very clear that there are many transgender athletes who have gone unnoticed because they are average competitors and sometimes even below average competitors.
CM: Yeah, I think that's really... Sorry, really important to echo that the AP had an article in the past several months that said in state, after state, after state lawmakers failed to be able to cite any transgender student athletes participating in their states. And so just to echo that we have seen other states that aren't even competing in a regional championship with Connecticut cite those two athletes within their bills on the rationale for why this needs to pass. And also it's important to note these athletes have graduated, they are no longer high school student athletes and they're not competing in college either. And so really the fact that lawmakers can't cite local examples, they can't cite state examples, nor can they cite anything more relevant or recent than two years ago, points to the fact that this is largely a solution in a surgical problem.
NG: Thanks for that, Chris. I know here in Michigan, the Michigan High School Athletic Association director testified, and so we've handled this on a case by case basis. I can think there's probably been eight or 10 athletes in the last few years. She was really emphasizing exactly what you said that this has not been something that we've really struggled with, and that we should not have lawmakers getting involved in how we handle it. So Chris, thinking about your own experience as a trans athlete and someone who mentors trans and non-binary youth who play sports, what is the impact of these bills that you've seen, both states that have proposed them and states where they've passed?
CM: Yeah, I think we can't understate the impact that just the introduction of these bills have on young people specifically, but all members in the trans community. I mean, I often say like, I'm a grown man and I have the tools to handle when people are talking negatively about me and when people are discriminating against me, but I still feel impacted from hearing lawmakers and our elected officials say that people like me are not valid, that we're not worthy of the same experiences as our peers. And after a young person stands up and testifies and shares their truth and their experience in front of lawmakers, to have those people turn around and misgender that child, it's just heartbreaking to see. And I think that really resonates from the trans community of saying, it is invalidating to hear that people think that we don't belong, and our elected officials, because they're the ones with power.
CM: We know across the country that largely people support the trans community more and more, but we're not seeing that play out in the people, with the people who are making policies. But I think the very real impact that this has, whether it passes or not, is the impact that it has on cisgender people, so non-transgender people, and how they feel that they can then approach and talk about and interact with the trans community. And that's really what I've seen, the greatest impact is that some people have connections to sports, some don't, but people are hearing what lawmakers are saying. They're seeing the articles that are coming out, the headlines, the op-eds that say that we are not worthy of the same experiences as our peers. And that has a very real impact on the way that cisgender people talk about, treat, interact, and think of the trans community.
CM: And so that's the biggest thing that I've seen. I've seen parents have contacted me saying that they are looking to actively move their family from states that have introduced this legislation because they have trans kids and they're worried about what it's gonna be like for them, because we know that sports is the entry point for a lot of these politicians. We've seen these bills be packaged, sports bills with those healthcare bills that you mentioned, with bills that prevent trans people from having IDs that match who they are, and that has a significant impact on how we can live our daily lives. So I think parents are nervous and concerned, young people are nervous and concerned, and just the introduction of these bills has had a really negative impact on our community.
NG: Thinking about the increased visibility of trans and non-binary people, particularly in sport, I'm thinking about Layshia Clarendon and the WNBA, Laurel Hubbard and the Olympics just announced a couple of days ago. Katie, what positives have you seen as these athletes participate, not just for themselves, but for their teams and their leagues, and where do you see the challenges that remain?
KB: I think one of the biggest positives is just how meaningful it is for youth to see athletes like Layshia and Laurel be successful and compete. And there's also Quinn who competes for the Canada Women's National Soccer Team and who's also non-binary. And I think that part of it is really tremendous. I've written about Layshia, and one of the things that I was really struck by was a quote from someone who was in Indiana when Layshia was playing there, and noted how important and impactful it was for them as a young person to see Layshia, not just as a professional athlete and be successful, but then go on and be a parent. And just how impactful it was to see someone who identified similarly to them be in their 30s and that that type of visibility is something that I think cisgender folks may take a little bit for granted. You have possibility models there who can role model what a life into adulthood looks like, and that feels something that's kind of disconnected for a lot of transgender youth. And so I think that's the biggest positive impact that is there, just showing that, yeah, you can compete in sports and be successful at the highest level available, and also be a happy, healthy transgender adult. I think that's very important.
KB: As far as the challenges, I mean, I think we're gonna see it coming out of Tokyo. If Laurel Hubbard is competitive for a medal, it's going to be an absolute... It's just a very difficult conversation, and I don't know that folks are really prepared for that, to be honest. And so that's gonna be a real challenge for most of women, Laurel as a weightlifter from New Zealand. And so for much of her competitive career, she has been outside of the mainstream US media, we don't really pay attention to powerlifting in the way that perhaps some other nations do. It's not really one of our mainstream sports, but at this particular moment in this particular climate, if she is competitive, I think we're gonna really have a real reckoning with what that means and how we cover that.
KB: And so I think that's the biggest challenge that is upcoming, and then I think it's just worth noting that, yes, visibility, very important. But it is not safety and it's not security, and in some ways being a visible trans athlete actually can exacerbate the already growing tensions around this topic for many, many people. It gives folks something to latch onto, and I think we saw that with the athletes in Connecticut in terms of Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller. The fact that they were public, they were out, and they were successful has given folks a lot of ammunition to criticize that success. And I think for elite athletes, they're certainly gonna feel that as well.
CM: Yeah, just to put an asterisk on that, I think it really is important to note that we're talking mostly about transgender women, in this case. My being out in public as a white trans man has not been controversial. My participation with men has largely not been met with discrimination or harassment at the same level as a high school student athlete who's trying to participate with girls. And so that is important to call out, and also the racial component as well, like I have white privilege, I'm a white man, and my experience has been very, very different than Andraya and Terry, and we've seen that our Black and Brown and indigenous transgender and non-binary athletes are scrutinized at a much more significant level than our white trans athletes. And so that's just two important notes to put on what Katie just said.
NG: Great. Well, I feel like you're both leading us directly where I'd like to go, which is two simultaneous conversations, one around transgender women and girls and the sort of supposed competitive advantage versus women potentially because of testosterone and the role of testosterone. And then I'd also love to talk more about the issue you just raised, Chris, around the broader trend of policing and testing the bodies of athletes, particularly Black and Brown women. I've been thinking about both non-binary, transgender, and intersex athletes. So why don't we start with the testosterone piece, 'cause I think we started there particularly with Katie kind of keying up what would it mean if a trans woman does excel at the Olympics. So what do we know about testosterone? What do you think its role is in competition, and how do we navigate this both in, I would say high school sports, but also when we got up to more competitive sports? So who would like to start with that question?
CM: I'll kick us off. This is an interesting topic, and I'm glad that we're talking about it because I think a lot of people do wanna talk about it, and I think a lot of people are hesitant to talk about it. But you need to talk about it with nuance, right? It needs to be actually really discussed. And this is not something that we could talk about in a tweet, in a headline, and it needs a little more depth to actually understand. Every single human body has testosterone as part of healthy functioning. So that's the first important to call out, and I think it's really interesting that there is this arbitrary number that designates where a person is no longer assumed to be a woman. And so that in itself is problematic. There's a long history of the testing of women's bodies relating to your next question. I am certainly not a testosterone denyer, I know I take testosterone as a trans man, but I think it is important to say like, I didn't hulk out, right? It didn't change me that significantly, so it's important to say testosterone is not the sole factor in athletic performance, first and foremost.
CM: If the science was clear on this, we wouldn't be having this discussion, and that's the other important point, is that what we've seen, and particularly from anti-trans advocates and the people who are pushing these bills at the high school level, are often using adults and cisgender elite athletes to pull data from, and then apply it to a population that it actually doesn't apply to. So when we have these studies that are being used and the data that's being pulled, oftentimes, they're first not comparing the same levels of testosterone, so testosterone taken from saliva would be different levels than taken from blood. We know that every single person's testosterone can fluctuate throughout the day. There are studies that actually say if the coach does a good job or give somebody a compliment that that produces a spike in one's testosterone. So there's a lot of cherry-picking of data that happens with the studies that we've seen, and there are studies that are actually good studies to look at to rely on that actually study transgender people in sports. And so that's the first thing.
CM: The second thing is to assume that anyone with a higher level of testosterone will automatically be bigger, faster, stronger, or a better athlete is just problematic, it's sexist, it's wrong. I know a lot of cisgender men who are horrible athletes, and I think... You know, there's a lot of sexism, a lot of stereotyping that happens in this conversation. What this has actually done is it's weaponized testosterone against young people in high school, and so, taking the data from the most elite of the elite of the Olympians, and then trying to apply it to trans kids in the high school setting is deeply problematic, and it's wrong. Olympic level rules and policies should not be applied to young people who simply wanna play sports with their friends. I'll leave it right there so Katie can add on other important information, but I think the stereotyping that's happening and the myths and misconceptions that have been perpetuated by both lawmakers and by journalists who are very, very responsible for the misinformation that has been put out there, not you Katie [chuckle], but thank you for that also, I think that that's been largely the problem.
KB: Oh, I got it, I got it. It's fine. I do want to echo much of what Chris said in terms of when we are talking... Like we're having this conversation that's really about culture, kind of wrapped in science, and then wrapped again in rhetoric. So when we look at culturally, what we're really talking about is that there's this fundamental assumption that anyone who's assigned male at birth is a better athlete than anyone assigned female at birth, and that's just patently false. It doesn't mean that the elite runners in the women's category in the 100 meter at the Olympics are going to run the exact same time as the elite runners in the men's 100 meter, we know that that is not true, but it also doesn't mean that Joe Shmoe who is a below average athlete, who's assigned male at birth is gonna be able to run faster than Allyson Felix, like that's not true. And so we're then having that conversation on all of those assumptions, and sort of placing it onto kids. And really, we're having multiple conversations about multiple different situations when it comes to athletics, and our willingness to apply scrutiny to athletes.
KB: I think Chris really hit it on the head when he said that what's okay at an elite level, from a rules perspective, from a scrutiny perspective, is not something that we should be talking about when we're... That's not a standard that should be just put on a 12 year old, and ultimately, that is what we're talking about here with a lot of these bills. I'm of the opinion that I think there is a lot of conversation that can be had around what sensible policy would look like, and reasonable minds can disagree on the finer points of those things, however, we also need to remember that we're not talking about elite level athletes going to the Olympics, we're talking about literally a nine year old who wants to play soccer with her friends, and that's something that's really, really important. And I think then just to dovetail on the actual science part of it, is to highlight really how unsettled the science is and how imperfect many of these comparisons are.
KB: So like, for example, we don't have really good scientific data that exists on high school transgender athletes competing and the effects of hormone replacement therapy on their athletic performance, that does not exist. What instead is happening, what is being argued about is we have studies on transgender women competing in... Not even competing, performing athletic tasks that have taken hormone replacement therapy far after puberty, and then we're talking about applying those results to policy that then affects kids who are going through endogenous puberty, or have soon finished it, or are in the middle of that process.
KB: And so we simply don't have a lot of scientific data to, I think, really satisfy the appetite that folks have around answering some of these scientific questions. And that's just a reality in terms of acknowledging just how much in flux we are when we're talking about understanding not just the effects of testosterone, specifically physiologically, but we know what testosterone does to a body generally speaking. But what we don't have great data on is the actual effects of testosterone in its various forms, at various ages, at various points on athletic performance. And I think really what it comes down to is not even... I think Chris said... You know he's not a testosterone denyer, but acknowledging that there is a certain level of advantage in sports that we have deemed to be acceptable.
KB: So we have accepted, if you are perfectly, genetically, and physiologically engineered to be the best swimmer ever, we've accepted that that is an advantage that you're allowed to have. We've accepted that if your family has money to pay for private coaching, that that is an okay advantage to have. We've accepted that if you are able to purchase a home in a neighborhood that has a well resourced school, that that is an acceptable advantage to have, and yet when we're talking about transgender kids in the middle of just being who they are, and who may or may not have an advantage for a window of time, and all of that is debated, I want to be very clear about that, that that is an advantage that is not accepted. And, I think that's just a little bit messier than folks probably want that to be.
NG: I feel like you both have led us perfectly into a policy discussion. The policy school is hosting this, and we're at a school that also has a very prestigious athletic program in the state, go blue, I'm getting very excited about upcoming seasons, so I'm wondering what we have seen by way of policies for trans kids to participate in a sport that work well. Chris, maybe you could start us walking through. I look to you as the expert honestly in tracking these various policies. What exists at the youth level? And then what do we see and how does that differ when we get to say, the NCAA, and then we get to the other more professional areas of sport? So, Chris, I'll let you start.
CM: Yeah, thank you. There's a huge patchwork of policies across the country, and I think that's important to note first and foremost, is that at the high school level, there is no federal legislation or rules or policies that say where trans student athletes should participate. So it has in the past largely been left to state high school athletic associations to make those policies up until last year with Idaho HB 500 becoming the first law in the country to dictate where athletes should go. So our most inclusive policies allow transgender student athletes to participate in sports with their friends in the gender with which they identify. And do so without restrictions. Katie had mentioned this is a package wrapped in a pretty bow of rhetoric on the outside. And so the rhetoric has largely driven how people are thinking about inclusive policies or creating policies to exclude student athletes as opposed to finding ways to include them, to pull them in.
CM: And we should be very clear that the goal for high school student athletes and lower ages should absolutely be inclusion, because we know all of the positive benefits that young people receive from playing sports. I would say, all of the values that I love about myself as an adult human person in this world, I learned through playing youth sports. Leadership, communication skills, goal setting on and on and on, and I think that's been widely documented. Also very important to say that in those states, like Connecticut, like California, that actually have trans-inclusive policies that allow student athletes to participate without restriction, we've actually seen the number of cisgender girls increase in sports at a higher level than our national levels. So for states that have exclusive policies, policies that ban transgender student athletes, the participation of all the girls in that state has actually been going down. And in those states that have inclusive policies, we've seen a rise in all student athletes participation, so there are a lot of benefits.
CM: We have those inclusive policies, we have 16 states that allow student athletes to participate without restrictions. We have some states that don't have policies that actually do a case-by-case basis, so you can see the problem with that of having one person make a decision of whether or not somebody should be allowed to participate without real guidance or clear protocol of how that happens. And then we have states that actually require that a student athlete participate based on their original birth certificate, or that in a few rare cases, they actually have to have a surgery in order to participate in high school sports, which is just mind-blowing. How this differs from NCAA to collegiate student athletes, there is a policy in place that is actually hormone-based, and so the NCAA policy is based on testosterone. It has a one year wait time, but it does not have a hormone limit. So no levels that are being checked.
CM: And that's where it differs from the IOC, the International Olympic Committee's so at the most elite level. And then any national governing body that follows the International Olympic Committee policy, those are using hormone-based policy, but also have a limit on the amount of testosterone that could be tested in an athlete's system. Very, very important to call out that these policies are specifically intended to govern transgender girls and transgender women, and so the International Olympic policy says that trans men can participate without restriction, essentially. And a lot of the policies are not concerned about transgender boys or transgender men, and they're written in a way that limits or prevents transgender girls from openly participating in girl's sports.
KB: I do want to add one clarification to transgender men competing without restriction, as it applies to the men's category. If and when transgender men do decide to medically transition including a hormone replacement therapy and taking testosterone, they must compete in the men's category, but if that is not a part of their transition journey, they're free to compete in whatever category they wish. So that's important in terms of how we're talking about the protection of the integrity of the women's category specifically.
CM: Yeah, a great call out. Thank you for that. And I think it's also important to note that, as we're talking... We're very much talking about trans people making a very binary transition. Sports is a very binary institution. We have a men's category, a women's category, and athletes have to choose between one of the two of those, and so where these policies are structured for people making a very binary transition, but more and more we're seeing non-binary identifying folks who want to participate in sports, and we are now starting to see policies that are actually writing about non-binary athletes and where they participate. I think that there's a lot of work that can happen on thinking through the structure of sports and making sure that non-binary people can participate in a meaningful way, but I think that's the next iteration of these policies. Currently there's only one state in the country that has a high school policy that mentions non-binary athletes.
KB: What state?
CM: Washington. Oregon. Oregon. Washington. Sorry, I'll get back to you.
KB: I was [0:32:23.9] ____. [laughter] I was generally just curious.
CM: I'll get back to you. It's one of those two, I can't remember.
KB: Somewhere, Northwest, one of those. Yeah, so in thinking about... I had something to say and now I just started laughing, I don't remember, so Naomi, you go right ahead.
NG: No, that's great. I was wondering, Chris, I think you brought up this really tight concern around women's sports and the sort of sanctity of women's sports and protecting women. And I'm wondering, Katie in particular, having covered women's sports for a long time, what do you see as the threats to inclusion and participation in women's sports? If this isn't it, what are they or is this it? And how to we navigate that and what are the concerns you have? And then Chris, certainly, I would welcome your perspective as well.
KB: Yeah, I would argue that I don't really think this is of top of mind for women's sports in terms of wanting a thriving women's sports culture in the world, I suppose. Really, the main issues around women's sports and the integrity, I suppose, of the category, as it were, is about funding. It's about funding and investment and folks being interested enough in women's sports. Well, not even interested enough, but just having the ability to participate in women's sports from a consumer perspective, from a participatory athlete perspective, etcetera, etcetera. Those things, I think are really the actual finer points of when it comes to what a thriving women's sports culture would look like. I think about the WNBA a lot as a professional sports league that has really strived to be progressive around a lot of these topics and is having ongoing conversations about these things. And it's a growing league that's getting a little bit more investment and here we go. And one of the most prominent members of their leadership team, from a player's perspective, is non-binary and that's really wonderful.
KB: And so I just think that when we talk about women's sports and the Title IX issues in particular, at the collegiate level and the high school level affecting women's sports, it has honestly little to nothing to do with the fact that there are some athletes who are competing who are trans and sometimes those athletes win. It's about are universities in compliance with Title IX when it comes to sports? And the answer, at least from my reporting, by and large is a resounding no. And so, that really, I think, is the issue that we should be focusing on. And then, if we come to a place where we actually do think, you know what, this is a bit of an issue, then we can have that discussion. But I think, just harking back to what Chris said earlier, when folks really fail to cite local examples, when the only examples that folks readily have continues to be the exact same one over and over and over again and that those athletes aren't even competing in high school anymore, they've graduated... And they're not competing in college.
KB: I think it's really important to say that. They're not competing in college and the athletes that filed suit in Connecticut are at Division I schools on scholarship. And so, those things are really important to call out 'cause it's not to undermine anyone's concern but I think it is to say, "Okay, here are the facts. Let's deal with all of them in all of their nuance and messiness and come to a place of discernment," I suppose. But at the end of the day, I think really what women's sports needs is just more funding and a real commitment for equity from the folks who are claiming that they wanna protect it.
CM: It's been so frustrating as a fan of women's sports to see people weaponize and leverage cis women against trans women in this space because we know that this is not a threat, this is not on the top 10 list of threats to women's sports. There's a great paper called Chasing Equity by the Women's Sports Foundation which highlights 10 of the greatest threats to women's sports right now, 10 things that really need attention and it's the things that Katie just mentioned. It's opportunities to funding and investment in coverage and in money. It's opportunities for athletes to go on to coaching positions, to have professional opportunities, and Title IX compliance, on and on. But there's no mention of transgender athletes in this report at all and, actually, the Women's Sports Foundation has been very clear about saying that their goal is All girls. All women. All sports. And very clear that trans women are women and belong in women's sports spaces.
CM: The people who are on the inside really understand that and it's been really upsetting to see these people who claim to be trying to protect women and girls in sports, who then are also the same people who, right before this bill comes up, are policing women's bodies in terms of abortion or access to healthcare. I would question if any of these people introducing these bills have ever watched a game, bought a ticket to a WNBA game or a soccer game, have a jersey, are positively tweeting messages about female athletes, I'm just not seeing it. And so, it's really been just positioning, it's a tag line that sticks. All of these things are media messaged, they are tested to see what resonates and none of it is rooted in any fact or real concern about what will help or save women's sports.
NG: Before we turn to questions, I wanna go a little more personal with both of you. So first, Katie, how has your identity as a non-binary person affected how you report both on these issues but also more broadly your reporting? And then, Chris, I have a question for you but we'll let Katie go first.
KB: Oh man, I think as a non-binary person who grew up playing sports, I played basketball, I'm from Indiana, like good Hoosier through and through. And I love sports. I love women's sports in particular, and I just... I think as I have thought about the way that I see myself and how that has changed and developed over time, I think it really informs my work in terms of wanting to report in a way that is hearing so many perspectives, and it's balancing all of those perspectives. Chris and I laugh about that sometimes, in terms of being willing to pick up the phone and listen to folks with whom I don't particularly agree and they know I don't agree with them. And I think that's important in terms of holding myself accountable and being open and honest about where I sit on a lot of these topics, and then reporting around that accordingly.
KB: But it is deeply personal, in a lot of ways. It's hard to have some of these conversations about not just things I care about, but about a community of which I am a part, and that's something that I find to be a deeply, deeply challenging sometimes, but I do think it's important. And when it comes to, I think sports... The thing that I love about sports is that even though, I think culturally, we act like they've stayed the same forever, I like that we're having these really meaningful, deep, challenging conversations about why we've made the decisions we have around sports and what could they look like if they were different? I don't know that I want them to be particularly different from a category perspective, but I think it's important that we're asking ourselves those questions, like is there a better way to do it than the way that we are doing it now? And what does it mean to have an inclusive sporting apparatus? I don't know what the answer to that question is, but I'm always excited to go out and try and answer that question.
NG: That's great, and I think just having read a lot of your coverage, Katie, I think it speaks to how important it is to have diverse representation in who is reporting on issues, 'cause it really does come through. So thank you for that. Chris, taking actually some of Katie's answer, when you think about the advocacy that you do, the support that you provide in your own personal experience, where do you see people shifting perspective? What are the conversations that you have that you find people actually, you hear what they say, maybe you have another conversation and they actually shift their perspective? What has been your experience with that both individually and as an advocate?
CM: Yeah, I think representation matters a lot, and we often say that that it's important for people to see trans athletes participating, to see us having a great sporting experience, to see us being included and welcomed in different sports spaces. But I think the biggest thing for me that I've seen recently is how people can shift their perspectives when we are humanized. When so many of these stories are talking about myths and misconceptions about trans people using imagery that doesn't accurately reflect who trans people are, and that can really cause community to spiral out of control in terms of how they think about us and how they talk to us, as I mentioned in our opening answer.
CM: One of the great things has been I'm the executive producer of a film called Changing the Game, it's now on Hulu, and it follows three young transgender student athletes, as well as their families, their coaches throughout their competitions, and really just provides this real human look at these are kids who are trying to play sports with their friends and what they're going through in school and what they're going through with their families. And I think that that's a starting point for people to begin to understand where they got their early messages about trans community and how those are actually different and wrong based on the accuracy of their trans experience for young people and particularly people in sports.
CM: So it's been really cool to see people use that film as a sort of book club for people who don't read books, use that as a starting point for conversations to say there's somebody in that movie that every single person can relate to, whether it's the screaming coach who's being really nasty towards a young person, or the grandma who misgenders the trans kid at first, but is so loving and supportive, and you see them go through this evolution of support and doing anything for this kid. And so that I think has been how people have been able to change their perspectives, both in my own personal experience of sharing my story with colleges, universities, companies as a trans athlete, as well as uplifting those other stories because there's not just one way to be a trans person. There's not just one way to be a trans athlete. And so people need to understand we are as diverse as any other group of people, and it's important that all of these stories be heard so that people can really start to see us as people as opposed to as a headline or as a threat.
NG: Great, well, thank you. We're gonna turn to some audience questions now. So if folks do have questions, make sure to put them into the YouTube chat or on Twitter, #policytalks or policy chat... Yeah, policy talks. And so the first question, the first series of questions we got is really around supporting trans athletes. And so one question was, what are the organizations or places that people should go if they want to be more supportive and help support those trans people and athletes at all levels of competition? So Chris, maybe you can start there, 'cause I know you're involved in a lot of different efforts around the country.
CM: Yeah, I'd say first and foremost, if you're looking for more education, more understanding about policies or about trans people in sports in general, please go to transathlete.com. It's a website that I track all of the policies across the country in high school sports as well as around the globe, any organization that I'm aware of that has a policy is on there, as well as terminology lists, best practices at this moment in time, better practices and model policies for folks. So it's a great starting point to get the beginning, basics of education. And then also, I would just encourage everybody to reach out to their local organizations. I think anybody could pop a question into Google and find the national organizations that are touching this work in some fashion, some more genuinely than others. But the local organizations really need our supports and... Get you laughing... Really need our support, and so I think that reaching out to those local spaces where you can actually make an impact. Find out what is needed in your community and what initiatives they have going on, and that differs based on people's area of the country that they live in, but those are the spaces that actually need the most financial support and need the most amplification of their efforts that can always use volunteers in actually rolling up their sleeves and getting involved.
NG: Great, and related, and this could be to both of you, when we think about supporting trans athletes... This question was particularly from a college staff person, what are the supports that people should be thinking about for athletes knowing that they're dealing with these added layers to being in the world, to being who they are, to being in a classroom and to playing sports. What are the supports that folks should think about putting into place?
KB: I'll let Chris take that one too.
CM: I think just personal experience as a trans person, what I wanted most as a young person was just to be affirmed as the person that I know that I am, and so I can't overstate the importance of saying people's appropriate names and their pronouns, and allowing them access to the spaces that affirm their gender, and so that is really, really importance of any teacher, administrator, coach who has the opportunity to affirm a young person's identity. That support alone can make a world of difference. We've actually seen statistics of if a young person has one person in their life, or one space in their life, like sports, for example, that affirms their identity, they have a 25% reduced risk of self-harm in a year. We know that the challenges that trans, young people in particular face often lead to thoughts of self-harm, and so that is a really, really important statistic. And it costs you literally nothing just to use someone's appropriate name and pronouns.
CM: Beyond that, I think that there are opportunities to look at your policies, to look at your forms that you have, look at your systems in place within a school or within a sports league to see what would that experience be like for a young trans person, and what are some of the barriers that they may encounter within your system to actually having access and being affirmed in that space and then you can start to make some changes. We know that those sort of policy changes take a longer time and there has to be a lot more investment, but the benefits are so impactful for... While it may only impact one person in your community, it can make a world of difference, like literally, life and death difference for that young person. So those are all really important things that people can do.
CM: And beyond that, just personally, education around language and terminology, again, all of this is free, G-O-O-G-L-E, lots of information out there, transathlete.com. Get that starting point for using appropriate terminology, and that is also very, very important for members of the trans and non-binary community.
NG: Great. Katie, we received a question from the audience specifically around, where did we get to have conversations about advocating for a world where trans women get to be exceptional and they do get to excel, so I'm wondering... Take us to three weeks from now, when Laurel Hubbard perhaps has won or has medaled in the Olympics, what would be the coverage, the questions you would be asking, the way you would wanna influence that conversation as a reporter?
KB: Oh man, I think if... Before Hubbard medaled... First of all, there are so many questions I would like to ask Laurel. And I think it's important to note that Laurel has specifically chosen to not really engage with any media at all, period, except around required media at international events such as the Olympics. There's a real reason for that in that a lot of times media members focus on wanting to know intimate physical details about a trans person that are unnecessary. Want to know a trans person's name at birth, which is not just unnecessary, it's completely invasive.
KB: There are common mistakes and pitfalls that folks fall into, whether it is describing the size of a transgender woman competing in sports, etcetera, etcetera, and for me, when it comes to that moment, I would just wanna know what it meant to Laurel who... If she does medal, she will have done so after just suffering a gruesome injury a few years ago, after almost not qualifying for the Olympic Games, but there are so many other storylines around Laurel Hubbard and her success that would be just as worthy of highlighting in addition to a historic moment, which, yes, it would be historic and so it is important to note that she is trans, but it doesn't mean that we have to sensationalize that moment from a media perspective in terms of just really focusing on these really salacious things that just... It's just kinda grody and frankly, if we were doing it to another person, we would think it was gross, and I don't know why from a reporter perspective, we haven't gotten there with trans people yet.
KB: So that's a place that I feel very comfortable saying, "Don't do that, please," and focus instead on the storyline and what that story means and looks like, and it doesn't have to just be, "Trans person wins X," and let's talk about all the ways in which that is problematic. If she does win, it will be... Not even if she wins, if she medals, if she places in the top five, just by showing up and competing, there will be controversy and so that controversy is of note and should be reported around, but it doesn't have to be sensationalized in ways that are just super gross.
CM: Grody, I think that... [laughter] Super grody. So many good points. I don't know if you saw my making faces as you were saying that, but my experience as being a transgender athlete and having the media cover me is that I've been asked the most basic questions that none of my competitors have been asked, and that are completely irrelevant to my athletic performance. And at the same time, I've also, in a very different way from Laurel, tried to balance the fact that I feel very called to being public into being out, into having people see me, because I know what it would have meant to me as a young athlete, to see someone like me today, and to see somebody competing at a high level. To being openly trans. To having an awesome life. To sharing, not just the trauma forward story of being a trans person in this world, which is a very real narrative, but also experiencing and sharing trans joy. And what it means to be an athlete and to celebrate my accomplishments and to be celebrated for my athletic performance, and to what I bring to the team and what I contribute as a coach.
CM: And those are all storylines that have not been highlighted enough, I feel in my story, and at the same time, I balance that as a person who absolutely wants to be an advocate and a role model and a possibility model for others, and so it's very important that in the headline, it does say transgender athlete because I want people to see that. And then in a moment like this, I hope that I have done enough work as an out-trans person that those questions have been asked. I know that this isn't actually true, but my dream state would be that we've gotten this out of the way. People have made those errors in reporting on me and we will be in a position where we're only focusing on Laurel's trans-ness, and not the fact that that injury, just made me cringe when you said that, what Laurel has overcome to get to this position and the exceptional nature of being one of the athletes at the Olympics on the world stage. People often overlook the training that I got into being a high level athlete. My success, Laurel's success is not because we are trans, it's because we've worked our asses off. And I think that's really important and overlooked, and that's the storyline that I would love to see reported on for Laurel and for other transgender athletes as well.
NG: Great, thank you both. We'll see if there's any other audience questions. In the meantime, I'm wondering, just to end on a fun note, what is the upcoming Olympic competition that you're most excited to watch? Chris, wanna start us off?
CM: I'll tell you, I am so excited to watch the Paralympics this year, and I've been really, really happy with the USOPC, the US Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee, pulling in Paralympics as a larger part of the Olympic games and the Olympic movement in the United States and the fact that I just have a lot of friends who are over there and just very excited to personally see a triathlon, in particular the Para triathlon, but also just celebrate all of the athletes. As a competitor, I know what it takes to get there. The Olympic trials was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Didn't make the team, so I'm rooting for everybody from the United States, but I'm just really excited to set my alarm clock really, really early. I've been waking up at four and five this week to try to train myself to not be so tired, but I'm still looking forward to women's soccer in particular. Gymnastics is always amazing. Every track and field event. I mean, how long do we have here? I'll just list all the Olympic events. [laughter] Katie, what are you excited about?
KB: On the spiritual level, I actually wake up early to write most days. So I'm already up, so I can't wait to get up at 4:30 in the morning, although, that's really early. That's if I'm really behind that's when I wake up, so we're gonna make this work. So women's soccer, can't wait. Also really thrilled about softball starting today. First time softball's been in the Olympics since... Oh man, 2012, 2008? A long time. It's been a long time, so I'm really excited about that. Basketball obvi, women's basketball, women's sports. Really, whatever I say is sport, just assume it's the women's competition. Track and field, swimming. I love it all. I can't wait. Thrilled.
NG: Okay, well we look forward to your coverage, Katie, and I'll be paying attention to your Twitter, Chris, to see what you're thinking as the Olympics move forward. I wanna thank you both for what has just been a really awesome conversation, and I hope we get to do this again sometime soon. And to our audience, proposing such great and excellent questions, and just wanna thank everyone for tuning in and stay tuned to the Ford School website and social media pages for more information about upcoming events at the Ford School. And have a great day, everybody.