How sport has been used to attack trans people


The legislative attacks on trans people and their families have been relentless. This goes beyond Texas, where the GOP wants to ban all health care for trans children and Governor Greg Abbott signed a document last week affirming his belief that any emotional, let alone medical, help for young people trans would now qualify as child abuse. They want to be able to jail teachers who don’t “report” their trans students to authorities and parents, regardless of the students’ circumstances at home.

One of the main ways the radical right has made inroads against trans people, after years of obsessing over “bathroom bills,” is through sports. They built on the successful experiences of the very few trans female athletes in elite competition and proclaimed that protecting cisgender female athletes from trans women must be the number one priority. These women, blithely abused by their political tormentors, are accused of depriving cisgender female athletes of medals and championships by using their superior “masculine” physique. This campaign has now focused their ire on trans swimmer Lia Thomas, a Penn University competitor and 2022 Ivy League champion. Lia’s sporting achievements have connected radical right and liberal feminists in the sports world who are helping pass legislation, which has been linked to an increase in hate crimes and has proven to be a gateway to further attacks on trans youth. It was also a success because Democrats remained largely silent as these assaults spilled into state homes.

That’s why I emailed five questions to Chris Mosier, the first openly transgender athlete in Team USA history. It’s time for clarity and action in the fight for trans lives.

—Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin: A big part of the response to Lia Thomas’ existence and performance has been outrage. What are your thoughts?

Chris Moser: Right-wing outrage over Lia Thomas’ participation and performance is part of a broader campaign to ban trans athletes from participating in sports at all levels of play. In 2021, nine states signed bills banning trans athletes from competing on teams that conform to their gender identity. South Dakota has already signed a bill this year, and there are currently at least 34 other bills pending at the state level to limit the participation of trans athletes at the high school or college level. The outrage was fueled by poor media coverage, which largely highlighted only opposition voices and not the many supporters of Lia and other transgender athletes.

I think the root of this problem is that a lot of people lack a fundamental understanding of what it means to be transgender and how we as transgender athletes fit into sport. No one is pretending to be trans or transitioning to gain a competitive advantage. Trans people play sports for the same reasons as everyone else: to be part of a team, to move their body, to master new skills, to have fun, etc. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a person – a real person who has spent their whole life training to be good at their sport. It has nothing to do with her gender identity.

DZ: What should do the rules apply to trans female athletes?

CM: For many rules in many sports, the policies are different depending on the level of play. This is what makes the sports landscape so incredibly difficult to navigate as a trans person: policies and rules differ depending on the level of play. age, level of play, sport and state in which they live or compete. Add new state laws. ban trans athletes, and there are a lot of factors at play. There is no one-size-fits-all policy in sports, but headlines and clickbait tweets have created a false choice between “inclusion” and “equity”, a choice we do not have to make. Sport can be fair and inclusive at the same time, and we’ve seen policies in place for decades that work.

Trans women are women and should be allowed in women’s sports. In fact, trans women and girls have participated in women’s sports at every level of play around the world, but only a few have had success at the high school and college levels, and those are the ones we hear about. It’s absolutely unfair to ban trans people from playing sports, but also deeply unfair to say that we can play but not excel at what we love. For sample policies and good examples of inclusive policies, visit

DZ: Why do you think “protecting girls’ sport” has been such an effective rallying cry for the far right?

CM: The concept of ‘protecting women’s sports’ plays on the idea that women and girls need ‘protection’ when they really need opportunities, resources and investments in women’s and women’s sports. Attacks on trans people in sport are rooted in the same kind of gender discrimination and stereotypes that have held back cisgender women in sport for centuries. Trans girls are often told they aren’t girls based on grossly inaccurate stereotypes about athletics, biology, and gender. Combined with the collective lack of understanding of trans identity, the right has found this to be a strategy to effect, playing on the bathroom bills we’ve seen in the past (and are now seeing resurgence). These phrases were tested to see what resonates with voters and the message was designed to create “solutions” to a “problem” that doesn’t actually exist.

DZ: What would you say to Martina Navratilova and others on the liberal left who have decided to answer this call? What would you say to those who think Democrats should take the issue off the table by allying with the far right and voicing their own opposition to trans women in sports?

CM: We now hear the same cries of “the end of women’s sports” as when Renee Richards was playing in the late 1970s. This fight is not sports. It is about erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life. It’s about creating “solutions” to “problems” that don’t exist and, in doing so, doing great harm to some of our country’s most vulnerable young people. It is about beginning the attacks on the bodily autonomy of all people and the policing of the body and the care of people. If people are really concerned about protecting women’s sport, they should focus on the real issues that women and girls face in sport: issues like unequal resources, pay and media attention. ; harassment and abuse of athletes and women working in sport; a lack of compliance with Title IX; etc There are many very real issues facing women in sport – having a transgender teammate is not one of them.

DZ: What will it take to build a movement to protect trans lives?

CM: This is an intersectional movement that will require collaboration between groups because it is about sports, but it is definitely not about sports alone. It should be noted that attempts to legislate who is or is not a woman are not new. Historically and repeatedly, we have seen legislators target and try to exclude poor women, black women, single women and others from legal protections. There is a lot going on in our world and our country right now, but we need to raise the alarm about these attacks on the trans community. Although this is a small part of the population, a disproportionate amount of energy and effort has been expended trying to create an environment in which we cannot live safe and open lives. People who oppose my existence, the existence of trans people and specifically trans women and girls, have been vocal and we need to match that energy.

There are many ways to take action: Talk to your friends, family and colleagues. Amplify the voices of trans people and trans-led organizations. Donate to trans-led organizations. Vote for candidates who support the LGBTQ community. Call or email your state legislators and tell them to oppose anti-trans legislation. Do not be silent; we need all of our allies to understand that these attacks will have very real impacts far beyond the trans community and we must act now.


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