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Transgender athlete reacts to wave of anti-trans sports legislation

Schuylar Bailar spoke to "Morning Rush" about the wave of anti-transgender bills and what he thinks the focus should be on.
Transgender athlete reacts to wave of anti-trans sports legislation
Posted at 12:16 PM, May 03, 2023

Some 471 anti-LGBTQ bills, many of which target transgender rights, have been introduced in state legislatures across the United State since the start of the year.

At least 18 states have banned transgender athletes from competing in sports that match their gender identity. Ohio could be the next name on that list, as lawmakers in the Buckeye State look to pass the Save Women's Sports Act, which would require state institutions of higher education and private colleges to designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each biological sex. 

For a more unique perspective on the issue of letting trans athletes compete in sports, "Morning Rush" host Lindsay Tuchman spoke with American swimmer Schuyler Bailar, who uses he/him pronouns. He is the first openly transgender Division I swimmer in NCAA history, where he competed for the Harvard men's swimming and diving team.

"For me, sports absolutely saved my life," Bailar said. "They gave me life, and I think that every kid has a right to access that type of connection with their body and with their peers."

Bailar says it's important for legislators to understand that these bills are affecting children who want to play recreational sports with their friends before they're even reaching the age of puberty.

"I think that most of the bills that we're looking at around the country are not actually talking about the Olympics, they're not talking about professional sports — some of them are talking about college sports, but most of them are talking about children. And I think what lawmakers and legislators are missing is that central point — that we should allow kids to play sports with their friends."

SEE MORE: Advocates worry about the effects of state laws targeting LGBTQ youth

Bailar shared his own experience and said he received a lot of positivity and support from his teammates and coaches when competing in the men's swimming category in college. But, he shared the juxtaposition when it comes to trans women.

"The driving way that people are trying to exclude is by focusing on trans women and trans girls. Lia Thomas, for example, received only hatred and vitriol from the media, which I think was really devastating to see, even though she did have support from her coach and from some of her teammates," he said. "So there's a discrepant difference between that. Even though people are saying it's about saving women's sports, they're actually excluding women."

Does biological sex determine ability to win?

Some advocates for bans on transgender athletes have made the argument that the biological sex of a transgender athlete could give them advantages when competing with cis men or cis women. But Bailar disagrees and says there's data to support her stance.

"I understand the focus on research and science and I will also say that that's important. There is research and science that reports that trans women who've undergone testosterone suppression do not retain clear advantages over cis women," he said. "So, when people are talking about the science, the research actually does support the inclusion of trans women in the women's category."

SEE MORE: World Swimming bans transgender athletes from women's events

Bailar continued to argue that people who have an issue with transgender women athletes competing with cis women athletes should be asking themselves a different question.

"Transgender people don't transition in order to win, or even in order to play sports. We happened to also be athletes. We transition to live," Bailar said. "Now, if you are afraid of a man pretending to be a woman in order to win women's sports, who are you afraid of? You're afraid of men — toxic, cis men, who are abusing their power. You're not actually afraid of trans women. And we have to stop punishing trans people for the harm that the patriarchy, that cis men perpetuate. You're afraid of men, not trans people."

Gender-affirming care

When it comes to gender-affirming care, which some legislators are also working to ban, Bailar says it can mean a variety of things. He also pointed out that gender-affirming care has been approved by major medical, psychological and psychiatric associations as medically necessary, appropriate and lifesaving. 

"Gender-affirming care is exactly what it says it is. It affirms one's gender. It doesn't try to make you be somebody that you're not. It says, 'Hey, I see you for who you are. I believe you. I trust you for who you are and I’m going to do things to affirm that.' And for me, gender-affirming care was lifesaving," Bailar said.  "It could be something from therapy, just talking about it; it can be affirming one's name and pronouns; it can include surgery and hormones, but only at developmentally appropriate ages. So people have this belief that children are getting, you know, their genitals cut off. And that's just not happening. For most children, gender affirming care means affirming their name and pronouns and maybe giving them puberty blockers at puberty."

SEE MORE: States want to ban gender-affirming care. What is that, exactly?

What comes next?

Bailar said when it comes to who should be making the calls when deciding transgender inclusion in sports, he said he's not sure whether it be up to each individual league or school, but he certainly does not think it should be in the hands of legislators.

"I don't think doing away with rules completely is the solution. And I don't think the trans advocates are advocating for that either," he said. "I think guidelines are important because we're a society. I don't think that lawmakers overwhelmingly have the expertise, the background, the education to be able to be legislating on these issues, the same way that they don't have medical expertise to be legislating on gender-affirming care or on abortion."

"I lean more towards wanting us to approve protections, like passing the Equality Act for individuals so that we don't have discrimination based on gender identity, based on gender expression. And that's sort of the focus I believe in, which is we do need just anti-discrimination policies and we don't need lawmakers making rules about sports they don't understand."

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