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Transgender youth tell personal stories to advocate for sports participation

  • ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Barbara McLeod's daughter Lane was one of the transgender students who testified against HB-198, which would limit participation in girls sports. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/10/2021 6:28:10 PM

For Barbara MacLeod and her daughter, Lane, testifying before the New Hampshire Education Committee last week felt like more of an obligation than a choice.

“If I don’t do it, then who else is going to do it?” Lane said afterward.

Lane is a transgender 16-year-old, and this isn’t the first time she or her mother have spoken before lawmakers, nor the first time they testified against the exact issue in question.

Tuesday’s hearing was on HB-198, which would ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ high school and post-secondary sports in the state. In January 2020, Lane and her mother testified against another bill that would have done the same thing.

MacLeod, who lives near the Seacoast, said that when she and Lane gave their testimony that time, the committee chair said he was moved. MacLeod said she believes that was part of the reason the bill did not go forward.

“So when you see the power of storytelling, and just sharing a personal story can make a difference in terms of policy, can affect the future and the future of trans girls in New Hampshire,” MacLeod said. “That’s compelling. And if not us, then who?”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Lane pointed out her physique, telling the committee that she’s 5 feet, 6 inches tall and was skinny for her age.

“I hope you understand that I don’t pose a physical threat to anybody else on the soccer field,” she said.

When committee-chair Rep. Rick Ladd introduced the bill, he said it would protect girls from having to compete with boys, against whom they would be “seriously outclassed.”

“It is girls who are being discriminated against,” Ladd said, by allowing athletes who “claim to be transgender” to compete.

“Boys generally tend to be bigger, taller, stronger, and faster than girls, can jump higher, and strike balls with greater force, all of which gives boys an advantage over girls in sports,” Ladd said.

New Hampshire is one of more than 20 states that have introduced bills proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender minors this year. Conservative lawmakers are responding to an executive order by Democratic President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. Mississippi is poised to become the first state to enact a law banning transgender athletes from competing on girls’ or women’s sports teams.

This bill’s recurring nature in New Hanmpshire is not lost on Lane, who predicted that if this bill fails, another one like it will come up later. “We need to come together to defeat this bill again and again,” she said.

At the hearing itself, Lane used a personal anecdote to try to sway the committee, recounting a time when her Phillips Exeter Academy soccer team lost a game and cheered each other up by listening to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” Lane called it “one of the most cherished memories.”

“Please don’t deny other transgender girls the opportunities to have these experiences,” she said.

Other transgender youth spoke on their own behalf at the hearing, including Colin Goodbred, a transgender Dartmouth student, who spoke of his experience in sports and on his school’s triathlon team. “I’m extremely mediocre and certainly not a threat to anyone’s professional careers,” he said.

“This proposed legislation would require children who live their lives as girls and are seen as girls by all of their friends and family to compete only against men,” Goodbred added, pointing out the potential impacts this could have on children’s confidence and mental health.

Goodbred, like Lane, has testified against similar bills before.

“It’s an attack on my community,” he said after the hearing, “and I feel quite strongly that they are unnecessary and discriminatory.”

“It’s part of a much broader push toward trying to disallow trans women in sports,” Goodbred added. “I think that it’s going to continue to make trans women and girls feel unwelcome in their communities and deny them the ability to take part in what should be a very simple and joyful activity, like playing sports with their friends at school.”

Emily McDougall, a transgender doctoral student at UNH, pointed out at the hearing the benefits sports had for her.

“It’s been invaluable to my studies and my career success long-term,” she said, because being able to participate in athletics boosted her mental health.

She also pointed to her own experience to “object to the notion that trans women would dominate women’s sports.” As a distance runner, she said she had average 5k times – 28 minutes pre-transition and 37 minutes post-transition.

For MacLeod, presenting real-life, first-hand accounts to the committee was the reason she and Lane to testified.

“It’s important for people to see and understand transgender individuals, including kids,” she said.

“Sharing our family story is one way to help people understand and to recognize that it’s inappropriate to position transgender people as if they’re anything less than everyone else, that they’re freaks, or it’s all in their head, or any of those notions that are just inaccurate and harmful,” MacLeod said.

Using family stories motivated Abi Maxwell too, who shared the experiences of her 8-year-old transgender daughter before the committee.

“My daughter is a girl,” she said. “She will not grow up to race with the boys. To ask her to is an act of bullying and exclusion.”

Maxwell’s daughter, she said, had been bullied to the point where the family had to move her to a different school.

“She knows her rights are never a given,” Maxwell told the committee. “This is a lot for an 8-year-old to carry.”

After the hearing, Maxwell, an author from the Lakes Region, said bills like HB-198 deeply affect her daughter “because she lives knowing that a portion of the population is against her rights. It affects her psyche, it affects the decisions that she makes, her comfort level in talking about who she is.”

“I think that the message of this bill, of all anti-trans legislation across the country, is that trans people should not exist,” Maxwell said. “So the impact – we know the statistics of what happens when these kids are told that they’re wrong, that they don’t belong, that they should be excluded, that they’re not worthy of the same rights ... the impact is terrifying.”

Mental health impacts were part of other testimony, by pediatricians and medical experts. Others focused on the potential legal impacts of the bill, and whether it might be considered in violation of federal regulations.

For the transgender children and their families who spoke, this is a more personal fight, and MacLeod said that it was draining for her daughter.

“She has been willing to put herself out there because it makes a difference,” she said, but Lane does not always want the spotlight.

Lane said the supporters of the bill are “a big force in opposition of my own rights,” which is what motivated her to tell her personal story.

“I honestly just want people to understand that I’m a human, I’m a kid, I’m a 16-year-old person who should not have to be advocating for my right to exist,” Lane said. “It’s a very sad thing to have to advocate for my own rights to exist and live and have dignity.”




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