Updated: Apr 27
Rhode Island’s legislature has its very own Three Stooges, except they don’t do slapstick comedy, this bipartisan trio peddles trash claiming to “promote sex equality.” In reality, they seek to ban transgender youth from girls' sports. Let’s not mince words – these are garbage people. Talk of trans kids' abilities in sports isn’t about school athletics, it is about distracting us from the violence and discrimination trans people face.
I remember watching the mother of a trans student testify at a Grass Lake, Mich school district meeting. She was there because the anti-LGBTQ hate group called the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) threatened a lawsuit to stop her son from being able to use the bathroom at school. She spoke of how wonderful it was for her son to get to be himself until ADF targeted her son. Now, this mother explained, her child told her he wanted to kill himself because he thought he was the problem –– her son wasn’t even ten years old.
Hate groups, such as ADF, don’t engage LGBTQ organizations and advocates on civil rights issues head-on. They are far too calculating and know they can’t win on the issues. They prefer sensational claims that pundits will talk about on TV and they target victims that have little political clout or money. This is why hate groups talk about things such as school sports and target trans kids as young as five – hate groups find kindergartners make easy prey. Often these groups and their allies push debates about bathrooms or changing rooms, school sports, and the so-called right to let teachers pick their students' pronouns.
In Rhode Island, transphobia is a bipartisan affair. Senators Elaine Morgan (R) and Frank Lombardo, III (D) have proposed the laughably named Fairness in Women’s Sports Act to ban trans kids from playing in girls' sports. Not to be outdone, Rep. Patricia Morgan (R), who achieved national fame for losing her Black friend but “didn't do anything to her, except be white” has a bill of her own. Her bill seems to be mostly a Fox News fever dream about Critical Race Theory that bans discussion of white supremacy claiming it is a racial slur – no one knows why she lost her Black friend – but she found room in her bill to include language to punish teachers for using the pronouns children decide to use. Collectively, this trio of lawmakers is Rhode Island’s very own Three Stooges and their slapstick legislation hits every major theme in the anti-Queer hate-group playbook.
Why are school sports in the anti-LGBTQ hate playbook? When discussing trans athletes, often people feel we should discuss fairness in school sports. It is a perfectly natural reaction to want schools to be fair for all youth. It is that genuine desire that these groups and their stooges exploit. If we took five minutes to actually think about fairness in youth sports, we wouldn’t be talking about gender and we certainly wouldn’t be singling out transgender youth. If this was about fairness in sports, we would be talking about height, weight, muscle mass, and skill level -- perhaps we'd also consider age. Students of all genders are going to fall all over the spectrum of these attributes.
If this was about fairness in youth sports, we’d acknowledge teens grow and mature at wildly different times and gender is a poor dividing factor. If fairness in school sports was the issue, it would make more sense to ask should a 190-pound 6’2 tall student compete against a 120-pound student who is 5’2 than to ask a student’s gender. But of course, nothing about this is about school sports.
When talking about trans sports, we are not talking about how at least 256 trans people have been murdered since 2013, or how 66 percent of those victims are Black women. When talking about trans sports, we are not talking about how 8 percent of trans people experienced homelessness in just the last year. When talking about trans sports, we are not talking about how 4 in 10 trans women are HIV positive in major U.S. cities. When talking about trans sports, we are not talking about how 29 percent of trans Americans live in poverty.
Hate-groups and their stooges use people’s desire for fairness to distract, divide, and inflict harm. We have a responsibility to not fall for it. Sadly, some of the people that fall for this the easiest are members of the press. Media too often loves to fall for this distraction –– we deserve scorn when we do. Just today, on the March 21 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the cast was discussing how free speech was under attack. Within 2 minutes of the discussion, they didn’t talk about neo-Nazi violence, they hadn’t mentioned media’s long history of marginalizing and silencing Queer people or people of color, no they were discussing trans athletes.
When talking about trans sports, we are ignoring the needs of the trans community and we harm all LGBTQ youth. In a press release from LGBTQ Action RI, they cited a recent survey by the Trevor Project, which reported that two-thirds of LGBTQ young people stated debates on anti-transgender bills last year negatively impacted their mental health –– 37 percent stated the effect was severe.
Lombardo and Morgan’s anti-trans sports bill is a distraction that harms youth. We know how it is harmful to trans youth, but the bill actually should alarm all parents with children in schools due to the bizarre language in it about proving a child’s gender the state could inspect a “student's internal and external reproductive anatomy.” After the recent controversy and investigation of North Kingstown High School with a coach having boys undress in his office alone for so-called fat checks, it is alarming to see such language in any bill related to education.
The next time you hear a discussion about trans sports, don’t fall for it. Call it out for what it is: A distraction designed to get people to not talk about trans rights. Meanwhile, perhaps the best thing Rhode Island’s three stooges can do is retire – hopefully, the voters will give them no other option this November.