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PRIDE in Alabama Part 2: Trans athletes and sports restrictions

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An APR News Feature

Alabama is joining the growing list of states to restrict how transgender youth participate in high school sports, and trans activists are now pushing back on the new rules. APR is spending Pride Month, during June, examining issues pertaining to the transgender community. That includes this deep dive into the new rules and restrictions.

“Males should not be competing against females and female sports,” Alabama Republican House member Wes Allen said.

Alabama lawmakers signed House Bill 291, and Governor Kay Ivey signed it. The measure bans trans youth from participating in high school sports that correspond with their gender identity. This means transgender athletes must play on the team of the gender that matches the gender on their birth certificate. Women’s teams were especially hard hit. Allen said he was happy to see the new law passed.

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“The female sports and the girls that train all year long, need to be able to compete against other females,” he said. “And I think this is this piece of legislation sponsored by Representative Scott Stadthagen is important, and I do believe it protects female athletes and female sports.”

Again, the proposal is for all trans youth with heavier oversight on women's teams. Under the new law, it comes down to two identifiers: transgender and cisgender. Transgender people don’t identify with the gender on their birth certificate. Cisgender people do. The heavier oversight on high school women's teams comes from GOP state lawmakers thinking that allowing transgender women to compete against cisgender women means allowing people who are “genetically male” to compete against “genetic women.” Supporters of House Bill 291 say this gives trans women an unfair advantage.

Opponents say the new law isn’t needed. The Alabama High School Athletic Association’s rule book already mandates students participate in sports teams based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. And the group says it’s unaware of any openly trans students enrolled in sports programs. Activists say there are a number of reasons for this.

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“They don't want to be discriminated and ostracized,” said Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, the Alabama State Director of the activist group Human Rights Campaign. “Transgender students mentally just elect to continue playing the sports that they were assigned at birth, even though it most likely makes them feel very uncomfortable.”

She said House Bill 291 is an overreach and singles out the trans community.

“Any time that you're restricting something that really is not a problem or issue, that's blatantly discriminating a certain population of our community here in Alabama,” Anderson-Harvey said. “Transgender people deserve dignity and respect. And like anyone else, transgender athletes have been participating in sports for decades to stay healthy, to be part of a team.”

But Allen said the legislation isn’t based in discrimination and is needed in the state.

“Males should not be competing in female sports. Let’s leave it at that,” he said.

There’s been some concern from trans activists that the NCAA would pull games from Alabama over the new restrictions. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The NCAA selected Alabama as one state to host this year’s postseason softball tournaments. And state GOP lawmakers say they aren’t worried about other sports games being pulled.

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“No, not at all. As far as I'm concerned,” Allen said. “I'm not worried about that at all. And I'm proud of my Republican colleagues for passing this new protection to protect female sports and female athletes in the state of Alabama.”

Allen has promised more transgender-related bills will be coming back next legislative session, and activists say they’re ready to push back. Anderson-Harvey said  the first step starts with education.

“We are aware that this deal may come back on next year and they're gonna come back with a vengeance,” she said. “And so, we're preparing early. We're trying to have relationships with these conservatives to educate them. Trying to educate them to build relationships so they can stop producing misinformation”

Both sides say they’re not going to stop fighting “to protect the children.”

“I want folks to understand that, that we care deeply about all these children that may be suffering from gender dysphoria or, or maybe confused,” Allen said. “We don't want to hurt them in any way. Matter of fact, we're trying to protect them."

Anderson-Harvey shared her message to trans youth: “Remain in power,” she said. “Know that their loved, that those that support them see them, and we'roing to advocate for them. Continue to live and enjoy their youth and despite the discrimination, there are people that are fighting on their behalf.”

With House Bill 291 passed and signed into law, the rules are expected to kick in this fall. 

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