Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood are local track and field superstars. They took first and second place, respectively, in last month’s Connecticut State Open Finals. But they didn’t have a chance to revel in their hard-won victories. Shortly after the Finals, a group of local parents started petitions to prohibit both girls from competing. The reason? The girls’ gender identity.
Both Miller and Yearwood identify as transgender, and a small group of parents believe this gives them both a biological advantage over cisgender girls. So, at a time when they should be celebrating a rare achievement, they’re dealing with scrutiny, and in some cases hate and vitriol, from adults.
In a June interview with The Advocate, both girls shared that they’d been accepted by most people in their communities. However, the outrage after their wins serves as a stark reminder that not everyone is onboard. And furthermore, it serves as a reminder for all of us that trans youth often face adversity, especially in the realm of athletics.
Take for instance the case of Mack Beggs, an 18-year-old transgender male wrestler who was forced to compete against girls, despite taking testosterone. In his home state of Texas, high school athletes are only allowed to compete according to the gender defined on their birth certificate. Thus, Beggs’ victory over female competitors has been anything but celebratory.
Ideally, the discussion about trans high school athletes should center around the best ways to ease these athletes through their transitions while also allowing them to pursue their athletic passions. But instead, opponents have accused them of having unfair advantages. It’s an argument that doesn’t hold much weight when viewed from a scientific perspective.
Back in 2013, Heather Hargreaves debunked several of the myths surrounding trans athletes, clarifying that transitions actually made it more difficult for athletes to compete at the same level as their cisgender counterparts.
But even beyond this trivial conversation, bigger challenges await these athletes once they move on to college sports or pro careers. This past April, new hormone restrictions enacted by the International Olympic Committee reduced the amount of allowable testosterone for the forthcoming 2020 Tokyo Games. Thus, some athletes may not be able to compete, as the hormone dosage they need, to live as their authentic selves, will be in direct violation of IOC’s policies.
From a standpoint of visibility, trans kids must look to niche outlets like Outsports for coverage. And for young girls like Miller and Yearwood, these stories aren’t plentiful or diverse.
So, what can young trans athletes do? What resources do they have?
They can look for the small glimmers of hope, in positive stories like a piece from The Hartford Courant, which covered the controversy surrounding the young track stars. Though the article touched on the petitions, it recognized the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for welcoming trans athletes and encouraging them to compete.
And they can look to organizations like Athlete Ally, the You Can Play Project, and TRANSATHLETE, which all compile resources about up-to-date policy changes and productive ways to lobby for change in individual communities. GLAAD also offers a wide range of resources for transgender youth, beyond the world of sports. Each of these organizations advocates for more inclusive policies and discrimination-free environments.
The hope is that one day, athletes like Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood can compete, win, and be respected for their natural ability, rather than questioned, doubted, or petitioned. It’s inspiring that these girls continue to perform at a high level of excellence and hold their heads high in the face of adversity. But they shouldn’t have to, and all of us have the power to change that.