Arkansas bill excludes transgender girls from sports

As the explosion of anti-transgender legislation is discussed in Arkansas, many wonder what the goal or intention of these bills is. According to Sarah Everett, from the Arkansas Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the goal of this legislation is to target and erase transgender people. Senate Bill 354, specifically targets young transgender women who wish to play on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

“The Senate Bill 354 would prohibit trans girls and women from playing sports in schools, consistent with their gender identity, which would of course exclude trans girls from sports entirely,” Everett said. “Most of them don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to play on boys teams.” 

According to Everett the bill’s language often suggests that girls are weaker than boys. 

“The reason that we have separate sports is not because girls are weaker, or because we need to be protected, it’s because of systemic discrimination that has resulted in lost opportunities for girls and women,” Everett said. “I think there are a lot of female athletes out there who would tell you they could easily beat many, if not most boys at sports.”

Everett feels that there haven’t been many cases of transgender girls having an advantage in sports, making the law pointless. 

“Trans girls and women have been playing women’s and girl’s sports for decades,” Everett said. “If this were an issue, we would have seen dominance by trans girls in sports and we just haven’t seen that.” 

Everett also feels that the bill lacks any scientific evidence supporting these claims. The bill itself, according to Everett, cites the research of Doriane Lambelet Coleman, who has since stated that her research does not support the bill’s claims. 

Girls’ basketball coach, Kimberly Jenkins, and girls’ track coach Chris Clinton, agree that they’ve never had concerns about fairness between transgender girls and cisgender girls. 

“It’s a really new topic of conversation,” Jenkins said. “I’m trying to be thoughtful about it. I just want to take care of kids and do the best thing I can for kids.”

According to Clinton, there was a transgender student who was possibly going to transfer to the school and wanted to run track. Although the student did not end up running for Clinton, he was prepared and planned to handle the situation without making a big deal to the team about it. He planned to keep the student’s situation from the team, similarly to when a student has a medical condition. 

“It’d be like if somebody had a medical condition or something, that’s not anybody else’s business,” Clinton said. “It’s their business, their parents, and if they wanted to discuss that with me.”

Clinton hopes to put all of his athletes happiness over his own beliefs or opinions, and treat each one with equal kindness. 

“If somebody came out here as a trans youth, I’m just going to treat them like everybody else,” Clinton said. “With kindness, work with them, do what’s best for them, make them happy.” 

Jenkins also wants to do what is best for all of her athletes. 

“It’s just hard to even imagine because I haven’t had to deal with it yet, so I’m just open for conversation about that,” Jenkins said. “What that would look like, how you make that work, and how you make people feel comfortable on both sides.” 

Since there hasn’t ever been any transgender athletes in the school, neither coaches have thought too much about how they would accommodate these athletes. 

“Since this year is almost done, and I don’t have a trans youth out here, I haven’t thought about it too much,” Clinton said. “I’m going to have a lot of time over the summer to think about it.”

Everett believes that the bill is unnecessary because Arkansas has never had problems with transgender athletes before. 

“The fact that it’s never been an issue before, despite trans girls playing sports for years, is the most obvious evidence that it’s not needed,” Everett said. “The sponsors and proponents of the bill have said this is not a problem in Arkansas. They say they think they’re stopping a future problem, but they admit that it’s not a problem.”

Everett feels that the bill is harmful to young trans girls because they will be left out of sports completely and will be singled out from the rest of the athletes. 

“It’s harmful to trans girls who are already stigmatized and often harassed,” Everett said. “It just reinforces the message that they don’t fit in and they don’t belong.” 

According to Everett the bill’s sponsors talk about the importance of sports for all students. This includes having a sense of belonging and learning about teamwork. 

“There are a lot of really important benefits to playing sports, and excluding trans girls means they don’t get any of those benefits,” Everett said. “On top of that, it tells them that they don’t belong. We know that trans youth generally have much higher rates of suicide and depression because they’re already stigmatized and bullied and harassed. This just further stigmatizes them.”

Everett emphasizes that this bill was written as a direct attack towards the transgender community. 

“People have said this is about protecting women or it’s about protecting kids, or in, in the case of the pronoun bill, it’s about protecting teachers,” Everett said. “I think the fact that there are at least nine, if not ten, anti-trans bills in the Arkansas legislature this session, and some of the things that have been said on the floor of the House in those debates demonstrates that the goals are not to protect women. They’re not to protect kids, they are to target trans people, to erase trans people. These bills come from outside organizations whose sole purpose is to target and erase LGBTQ people.”

In contrast, Clinton hopes to treat transgender athletes equally and fairly to any other athletes. 

“I try to treat everybody fairly, no matter what,” Clinton said. “However you want to live your life, I’m not going to push my thoughts or feelings on you. I’m going to treat you as a human with respect and kindness. In turn, I feel that everybody should be the same. If that’s their life, let them live that life. Live your life, be happy. That’s the biggest thing.”