Katie Mather
·2 min read
 

March 31 is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to recognizing transgender and non-binary people around the world and acknowledging the work that still needs to be done to achieve justice for transgender people. In The Know will be celebrating trans stories during the month of March in a series called “Trans Visibility Matters,” in collaboration with the Phluid Project.

Schuyler Bailar wants you to know he didn’t simply wake up one day and “decide” to be a man.

“Being transgender is not a choice,” he told In The Know. “I have always been myself — a boy. I just haven’t always had the resources, language, courage or safety to be able to explain that identity to other people or even to myself.”

The 24-year-old is the first openly transgender Division I swimmer to compete for all four years of college. Since graduating from Harvard University in 2019, he has traveled internationally to talk about inclusion, body positivity and mental health awareness.

Bailar has come a long way since the days he spent Googling “transgender swimmer” and never finding results.

 

“I always encourage other folks to call trans people by the name and pronouns that we currently use as opposed to ones you might have used in the past,” he said. “This is the most simple and impactful way to say, ‘Hi, I see you for who you are.'”

His upcoming book, Obie is Man Enoughis a fictionalized story based on Bailar’s experience.

“Being transgender is just who you are,” he said simply. “Being transgender is just that — being transgender.”

Visit In The Know on March 31 for a special roundtable discussion Live Stream featuring Schuyler and other trans voices from around the world.

 

Several North Carolina Republican legislators have filed a bill that would block transgender women and girls from joining women's high school and college athletic teams, joining the culture-war tussle that has swept several states.

Their bill, which would apply to middle and high schools and colleges -- both public and private -- comes as legislators in nearly 30 other states have proposed similar prohibitions. Bills in Idaho and Mississippi have become law, while others are being debated in several more state legislatures.

A bill sponsor acknowledged he knew of no controversies in North Carolina when a transgender girl or woman had joined a team or competed in a sport designated for women. But it was important to be proactive in addressing the issue in North Carolina, said Rep. Mark Brody, a Union County Republican.

“I do not want to wait until biological females are pushed out of female sports, and all of their records are broken, scholarships lost and benefits of excelling are diminishing before this is addressed," Brody said on Tuesday at a Legislative Building news conference.

The North Carolina bill, filed on Monday, would require intramural and interscholastic teams to be designated as male or for men, female or for women, or co-ed.

Teams and sports designated as female or women’s activities wouldn’t be open to the male students, and a person’s sex would be defined as based “solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

The “Save Women’s Sports Act” also creates a legal cause of action for a “biological female student” to sue if she alleges suffering from a school violating the policy or retaliation from the school for reporting a violation.

LGBT groups and Democratic allies have blasted such legislation. They say the measures discriminate against transgender people who are already vulnerable to bigotry and just want to compete in sports like anyone else. President Joe Biden signed an executive order that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.

Equality North Carolina said in a news release that the bill is rooted in “outdated generalizations about male and female bodies.”

“Young people all across this state, regardless of gender identity, deserve the opportunity to experience the benefits of being part of a sporting community -- especially when trans youth already face disproportionate barriers to success in learning environments,” Equality NC education policy director Rebby Kern said.

But the bill’s supporters said physical differences between men and women are clear and women face little chance to succeed if they are forced to compete with transgender women or girls. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association does have a policy that allows transgender students to participate in athletics, but Brody argues the policy's details lack transparency.

In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem issued last week a partial veto of a transgender sports bill, and recommending to lawmakers that collegiate sports be excluded from the measure. Noem faced pressure from business interests to back off the legislation and social conservatives to embrace it.

Tuesday's news conference took place exactly five years after the General Assembly passed a law that in part required transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings that corresponded to their sex at birth.

The law, known as House Bill 2, drew national condemnation and prompted several large corporations and sports teams to relocate events to other states or reconsider expanding in North Carolina. That measure was partially repealed in 2017.

 

A political want in Utah never did intersect with the world of sports. A bill that would have barred transgender athletes from playing girl school sports. It died before it reached the Utah Senate floor. That bill would have been on a collision course with the International Olympic Committee. It also would have had an impact on the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Basketball Association’s plans for major events. Those events include a men’s college basketball regional tournament and the National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. Planned Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League events could be impacted too. Utah Republican Representative Kera Birkeland, claimed her bill would ensure fairness in women’s sports by making sure female athletes aren’t competing against those identified as male at birth. Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith might have had some input on political thinking according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. Smith might have reminded politicians that the NBA features 30 powerful owners with enormous financial clout.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order that prohibits discrimination in school sports based on gender identity. The NCAA has awarded Utah two regional women’s gymnastics tournaments and the 2022 skiing championship event. Utah is also scheduled to host the first and second round of the men’s basketball tournament regional in 2024. The NBA has scheduled its 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. The NCAA and NBA pulled events out of North Carolina because of a 2016 transgender bathroom law which was partially repealed in 2017. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves just signed a bill into law barring transgender athletes in public schools and colleges from competing in women’s sports. The NBA does not do business in Mississippi but the NCAA does and that could be problematic for that state in the future.

 

More than 540 student-athletes across the country signed a letter calling on the NCAA to stop hosting championships in states that prevent transgender athletes from competing in college sports. The letter, addressed to NCAA President Mark Emmerts, follows proposals in over 20 states that target trans athletes.

Across 80 universities, the 545 students come from diverse athletic backgrounds, including basketball, rowing, track and field, diving, swimming and gymnastics. The students believe that the NCAA's decision to accept championship bids from states with potential bans goes directly against the organization's anti-discrimination policy.

Aliya Schenck and Alana Bojar, track and field athletes from Washington University in St. Louis, first started the letter. Bojar, 21, says the NCAA has the power to affect change and has the responsibility to stand up for both current and future trans athletes.

"We're standing with trans athletes," Schenck, 20, told CBS News. "The big goal is to really make change within the NCAA, but if we can be allies to the trans community and help fight back against this legislation in any way possible, then we're doing our part."

The NCAA has relocated championship events over violations of its discrimination policy in the past. In 2016, the NCAA pulled seven championships from North Carolina over a law preventing transgender students from using the restroom of their choice.

Lawmakers in over 20 states have introduced legislation targeting transgender athletes. Mississippi's governor signed a bill Thursday that prevents trans athletes from competing on women's or girl's sports teams. Last year, Idaho passed a similar ban, which was blocked in federal court. 

"This is another attempt to strip trans folks in this country of their fundamental human rights to exist and to play on a sports team as kids," said Anne Lieberman, the director of policy and programs at Athlete Ally. "As folks who work in sports and are committed to social justice, (we) have to figure out a way that everyone can be included. And that means making sure that the people who are most impacted by these policies, by these conversations, have an actual seat at the table when these discussions are taking place."

Lieberman argued that not only are the laws against transgender athletes exclusionary, but their consequences can be life-threatening. Many of the proposals would require students to prove their assigned gender. Research shows that ostracizing children for their gender identity leads to increased self-harm and suicide rates, something sports can combat, said Lieberman. 

"All athletes deserve to compete," the letter reads. "All athletes are worthy of protection. No athlete should feel unsafe being who they are."

Schenck and Bojar hope the letter will force the NCAA to take action but vowed to continue raising awareness about these bills regardless of the outcome.

"Sports have always been my constant," Bojar said. "Even now in the pandemic, going to practice is one of my only constants. It's where I get to interact with people, it's where I get to release my stress. And to know that is being denied to people, I mean, who wouldn't get angry about that?

A recent Stanford study showed that, for teens exploring their gender identity, simple acts of caring from their parents were what they valued most.

When teenagers confide that they are transgender or uncertain about their gender identity, their parents may be unsure how to offer support. 

To understand what types of family support transgender adolescents consider helpful, a Stanford research team asked 25 of them for their thoughts. The team also interviewed the teens’ parents.

The actions teens said they valued most were among the simplest, the researchers discovered. Their findings were published March 8 in the Journal of Adolescent Health

Teens said they most appreciated having parents use their preferred name and pronoun, as well as knowing that their parents were emotionally available and listening to their concerns. 

The teenagers usually rated their parents as more supportive than the parents rated themselves, said Tandy Aye, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine and a pediatric endocrinologist at the Stanford Children’s Health Pediatric and Adolescent Gender Clinic. Aye is the senior author of the study.

“Even when parents are thinking that there is tension over gender identity, that parent-child relationship is still super important,” said Aye. She spoke with science writer Erin Digitale about her research. 

1. Set the stage for this study. What was previously known about the value of family support for transgender children?

Aye: Kristina Olson, a researcher in Seattle, has studied how important family support is for young kids going through gender transition or who are gender-expansive, meaning their gender identity doesn’t fit neatly into traditional “boy” or “girl” categories. If they have a supportive family from the beginning, children who are transgender and gender-expansive don’t experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation or suicide compared with cisgender peers. Without family support, all those mental-health risks increase substantially. And having family use a child’s preferred name and pronoun has been shown to be protective. 

2. What was new about your approach?

Aye: In our study, we were trying to classify the commonalities in families that were supportive. No one had really looked at both perspectives — of transgender teens and of their parents — to see what support looks like. 

We used a combination of closed-ended survey questions and open-ended interviews to get information about what parents and teens were thinking, saying and doing at pivotal times during the teenager’s gender journey. We interviewed parents and adolescents separately; it was very important that we got their views independently.

Among those who seek care at our gender clinic, we meet all sorts of families, and as we were doing this study, we realized that there’s support and there’s acceptance, but they don’t always go hand in hand. Hopefully, support leads to acceptance. We hope we can use what we discovered to help families who are not initially supportive learn how to support their teens.

3. What did teens tell you about the support they got from their families?

Aye: The adolescents always rated their parents to be more supportive than the parents rated themselves. I think that’s surprising, since there can be times of tension between parents and children during adolescence; it is a hard time for anyone. Our finding just shows how much teens really value their parents.

When we asked each group what actions they saw as showing support, parents talked about taking their teen to the gender clinic, getting them connected to resources. But what the majority of adolescents wanted most was for parents just to use their preferred name and pronoun. That validated what another study had found.

Parents come to us worried about what a gender clinic would do, with lots of medical questions and concerns about taking those first steps toward the medical aspects of a gender transition. But we found that what adolescents want is just for their families to acknowledge that they’re exploring their gender. If you can use their preferred name and pronoun, it affirms that you support that exploration.

4. You also talked with parents about their internal reactions. What did they say?

Aye: We asked the parents: While you’re being supportive, what’s the struggle you’re having? I don’t think researchers have asked that of the families of transgender or gender-questioning adolescents before. We found that even parents who are being very supportive are still internally having an adjustment. 

The things that were the hardest adjustments for them, interestingly, included using the child’s preferred name and pronoun. The child’s original name was the name that parents really thought about choosing before their child was born, and for the child to say that’s not their name anymore was often challenging for the parents. As to the pronoun, parents would say, “We’ve used it for so long.”

But most parents we spoke to were hiding their adjustment because they wanted to be perceived by their children as being as supportive as possible. I think this is a key take-away from the study, especially for mental health providers. When the parents come in with their child and say, “Yes, we’re supportive,” it’s important to acknowledge what parents are experiencing and talk to parents about providing services for them, to help them process their own emotions.

5. What take-aways from this study will be helpful for other families that you see in the Stanford Children’s gender clinic?

Aye: When families come to us, they’re often thinking about hormones, surgery and how difficult all those treatments at end of their child’s transition are going to be. Typically we bring parents back to the moment they’re in and ask, “Where is your child now? Where are you?”

Sometimes parents say, “We’re just having difficulty using the child’s preferred name and pronoun.” We talk about acceptance and ask them to just practice using the name and pronoun at home, and acknowledge to the family how important that support is to their teen. We also let them know that their teen may argue against them or shut down, but that the love they have for them is not forgotten, and it’s still very important to foster that relationship. 

Our new research adds to the evidence that transgender adolescents’ perception of their parents’ support may be the key protective factor in the teens’ mental health. It’s that perception of support that parents want to nurture. What can you do? It’s things like offering a hug, being there to listen. These are things anyone can do. They are free and fully reversible, whatever path the teen takes in their gender journey. There are no medical side effects to listening and giving hugs, or trying your child’s preferred name and pronoun. It’s all about helping the teen fully explore who they are.

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