Supporting Transgender Children in Youth Sports
Children in Youth Sports
by Chris Mosier
Thank you for writing into My Kid Is Gay. I'm going to tackle this question piece by piece, but first, I want to thank you for supporting every child's right to play, regardless of their gender identity. That alone is a big step. Play is an essential part of growing up. How many times as a parent have you instructed your child to “go play?” Play is not just a way for children to burn off extra energy and stay active; research shows that for all children, participation in sports provides long-lasting benefits. As an athlete myself, I know that many of the qualities and ideas I hold dear as an adult--teamwork, leadership, cooperation, dedication, goal setting, perseverance, and others--were learned and developed through participation in sports as a young person.
All young people should be allowed to play sports if they want to play. However, many transgender youth quit playing the sports they love because the barriers to inclusion--such as restrictive policies, unwelcoming coaches and administrators, uniform requirements, and locker room use requirements--are too great. Transgender students should not have to compromise their identity, or their safety or comfort, to participate in sports. Allowing transgender children to participate in school and recreational sports in their affirmed gender can boost their self-confidence and self-esteem, and provides them with the opportunity to move, play, and connect to others in a meaningful way.
As a best practice, a transgender child should be allowed to play on the team of the child’s full-time gender role. In preadolescent children, there are no hormonal advantages or disadvantages between boys and girls. Prior to puberty, boys do not have any physical advantages over girls because of their physiology, as hormonal levels do not differ significantly between sexes at this time. Gender segregation in children's sports is based on the way we operate in adult athletics, and is not rooted in any significant physiological differences. Therefore, young transgender athletes should be able to participate in accordance with their gender identity.
Depending on the sport and where you live, it is possible to encounter resistance against allowing a young transgender athlete to participate on the team in accordance with their gender identity. Trans inclusion in sports has become a trending topic recently, and more sporting organizations and leagues, including the International Olympic Committee and USA Sailing, are making policies that clearly state the process of applying, registering, or participating as a transgender athlete. However, not all of the policies are inclusive for trans athletes. Policies which require young people to participate according to their sex listed on their birth certificate, take hormones, or have surgery limit the ability of a transgender athlete to participate in sports.
What should you do when your transgender child wants to play youth sports but the policies in your community do not allow trans athletes to play with the gender with which they identify?
Support your child. First and foremost, assure your child that nothing is wrong with them. Imagine being the only one excluded while your friends are all playing together; this can be a challenging time for a young person who just wants to play. Be sure to check in with your child about how they are feeling and what they want to do.
Check the school and sport policy. If the athletic event is school-based, look for the school district and state policies on transgender inclusion. Policy information can typically be found on the website or in the school district manual, or by searching for the governing body’s policy on TransAthlete.com. For example, youth soccer in the United States would use USA Soccer guidelines. A governing body may have more inclusive policies that can be leveraged at the local level.
Check your state and city policy. Some cities, counties, and states have anti-discrimination ordinances that protect transgender people from discrimination. Additionally, intentionally disregarding a child's gender identity may constitute prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX or public accommodation laws. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in publicly funded schools. State and federal courts have determined that discrimination on the basis of an individual’s transgender identity constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.
Understand why. If you and your child are comfortable, discuss the issue with coaches, athletic directors, or school administrators. Find out what the policy is and why the policy is in place. Document who you meet with and make detailed notes on what they say. This may come in handy if you seek outside help in advocating for your child.
Get help. Attempting to change a system means that both you and your child may be put into the spotlight, but it is possible to avoid direct attention in this way. I recommend checking in with experts in policy change, such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights--the NCLR Sports Project has been the behind-the-scenes force behind many policy changes supporting transgender student athletes. They can help you be strategic about your case and recommend the most effective course of action.
Sometimes getting a policy changed is as simple as showing the name and face of a person who that policy is negatively impacting. In a rush to “have something in place,” some sports leagues adopt policies that simply do not work. Oftentimes, flaws in the system are not revealed until a person is standing in front of the organization. Many state policies have changed because of a brave student who wants to continue to play without compromising their gender identity.
I recognize that this is a process--and it can be an invasive process for a young person and their family. This may not be safe, comfortable, or even possible for your child or your family for a variety of reasons. If taking on a system and policy change is not on your agenda, here are a few other ideas:
Look for other opportunities to play outside of school. Youth clinics and recreational leagues through community centers may provide better support for your athlete.
Search for leagues that allow for mixed teams.
Check neighboring towns for more inclusive policies. If an extra 10 minutes in the car will give your child a better experience, it may be worth it.
Reach out for support. In addition to NCLR, you can get support and guidance from TransAthlete.com, and from other parents who have faced similar situations. Additionally, if you have a local LGBTQ Community Center, or a college campus nearby with an LGBTQ Center, they may be able to connect you to local resources that would be helpful.
There are so many benefits to participation in sports. Trans kids, like ALL kids, should be provided safe and comfortable opportunities to play. For more support, visit TransAthlete.com this June for the launch of the #LetTransKidsPlay campaign.
Chris Mosier (he/him/his) is a hall of fame athlete, coach, and thought leader around LGBT inclusion in athletics. In 2015 he made history by becoming the first transgender man to make a Men's US National Team, and was the catalyst for change in the International Olympic Committee's policy regarding participation of transgender athletes at the elite international level in 2016. He will compete for Team USA at the Sprint Duathlon (run/bike/run) World Championship in Spain in June 2016. He recently made his second US National Team, and will compete for Team USA in the Long Course Duathlon World Championship in Switzerland in fall 2017. Follow him on Twitter @thechrismosier
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