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A Solution in Search of a Problem: Indiana Bans Transgender Girls from Sports

Susan Estrich on

"Hoosiers won't be bullied by woke groups threatening girls' sports," the attorney general of Indiana warned, vowing to defend newly enacted legislation barring transgender girls from participating in school sports.

But according to Indiana's Republican governor, who vetoed the bill only to have his veto overridden this week, there is no such threat. "(T)he presumption of the policy laid out in (the bill) is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention. It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim."

In passing legislation to solve a problem that does not exist, Indiana joined some 17 other states that have rushed to send the message, as the Indiana bill's sponsor said, that the state "will protect the integrity of female sports."

The integrity of female sports is not being threatened either by a mass of woke groups or by a wave of transgender athletes. But this is not mere harmless grandstanding by conservatives out to score points. They are doing so on the backs of schoolchildren, solving a problem that does not exist by aggravating ones that do, promoting bias and discrimination against the most vulnerable students in any school.

The fact that one transgender athlete managed to win an NCAA swimming title should not be enough to trigger legislative action that legitimates discrimination not only in sports but across the board. Sports, after all, are not the only frontiers; there is also the critical battleground of bathrooms and the question of how much humiliation should be heaped on children who already struggle with being different.

Getting one's head around the reality that some people are born into the wrong gender takes some work for many people. They worry that children may turn a temporary inclination into an immutable choice. As if changing one's gender is the easy choice; as if it is really a choice. Listen to the parents and they tell us otherwise. Listen to transgender adults and to experts who tell us the same.

 

In the wake of the Indiana override, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that they had found a plaintiff, a 10-year-old transgender girl who was playing soccer and would be barred from the team under the new law. How can her participation in a girls' team be seen as a threat to the "integrity of female sports"? How can her exclusion be seen as anything other than discrimination on the basis of sex, prohibited by Title IX and by the Constitution?

Gender discrimination law has developed over the past half-century based on a binary model and on the assumption that beyond physical differences, gender was a social construct, meaning the roles and traits assigned to men and women were creations of society. Liberal feminists debated how to accommodate the theory that women are no different than men with the reality that most are. The doctrine that has resulted, some of it statutory and some constitutional, bans classifications that disproportionately disfavored women (like height and weight requirements that are not strictly job-related) and requires individual consideration without regard to group stereotypes.

Accommodating transgender children in a fair and lawful way will never be accomplished by across-the-board bans such as the one enacted by Indiana. Such bans perpetuate negative stereotypes rather than break them down, excluding children from play that poses no threat at all to the larger sports program or to the school community. And they hurt individual children, like the 10-year-old soccer player whose participation is a threat to no one at all, but whose exclusion threatens to leave lifelong scars. How cruel.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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