A mother discussed her transgender daughter being forced to compete on a boys soccer team despite intense bullying. Another recalled her trans son coming out at 11 years old and her personal commitment to make a safe world for her child. Coaches neared tears as they discussed the importance of sports in child development and the threats they face.
Equality Florida focused a Pride Day press conference on the rights of transgender children, particularly access to athletics. All of it happened as legislation surfaces in states across America, including in Florida, that would primarily restrict school athletics based on gender assigned at birth.
“We are all human beings who deserve fairness, respect and equality,” said Jeanette Jennings. “And what is between these kids’ legs won’t determine if they score a goal, win a race, shoot a basket or hit a home run.”
Jennings’ daughter, Jazz Jennings, has become a reality television personality and is the star of the TLC series I Am Jazz. But at the Equality Florida event, Jennings spoke of an earlier period, when Jazz as a youth soccer player signed up for a girls team. A petite child at age 11, the transgender girl was among the smaller members of her team. Still, a competing team at one point threatened to sit on the ground and refuse to play if they had to share a field with a “boy.” Jazz was for a period forced to play on a boys team, then after facing hostility returned to the girls team for practices but was not allowed to play.
Parents, trans activists and LGBTQ lawmakers spoke up on the call about the growing threats students face simply being out as transgender while still in school.
Orange County Property Appraiser Amy Mercado, a former House member and mother to a transgender child, described the legislation as hateful.
“The prejudicial bills we are seeing intentionally block trans rights and opportunities, and that is not the path that needs to be taken,” she said.
Supporters of restrictions on trans sports say trans girls and trans women threaten the competitiveness of women’s sports. A lawsuit was filed last year by cisgender runners upset at competing against biological males. And legislation has now been filed in 26 states similar to the Florida bill aimed at restricting who can compete.
But Jon Harris Mauer of Equality Florida called suggestions male athletes would claim a different gender identity to get a competitive advantage “bogus.” “We have seen no reports of that happening in Florida or elsewhere of folks manipulating their gender identity in order to win medals,” he said.
Sally Hogshead, a mother of a transgender boy who played hockey, noted the argument also ignored children like her son risking a disadvantage. But she also noted that the proposed rules apply to recreational sports at all ages.
“There’s a big difference in athletics at middle and high school level and the training at collegiate, professional and Olympic level, “ she said. “When you talk about middle and high school kids, it’s pure phobia.”
State Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna Eskamani, both Orlando area Democrats, committed to fighting the legislation and for LGBTQ causes. While there are no transgender members of the Florida Legislature, Smith, who is gay, said the LGBTQ caucus would fight for transgender rights adamantly.