Florida officials temporarily barred a transgender student from participating in any of her high school’s sports teams, saying the teenager violated state law by playing on the girls volleyball team.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the unnamed student’s school, Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, officials from the Florida High School Athletic Association said the trans teenager was “declared ineligible to represent any member school” and therefore barred from competing on any school sports team for just under a year.
Officials also placed the South Florida high school on probation for 11 months, fined it $16,500 and mandated that its staff undergo a series of compliance trainings.
The state’s penalties come just a few weeks after the high school’s principal and several other school officials were reassigned after county officials opened an investigation into “allegations of improper student participation in sports,” flagged by an anonymous tipster.
A spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools confirmed Wednesday that the district received the Florida High School Athletic Association’s letter and that its investigation into the matter is ongoing.
Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group which is serving as the trans student’s legal representation, condemned the state’s action’s in a statement Tuesday.
“Today’s determination by the Florida High School Athletics Association does not change the fact that the law preventing transgender girls from playing sports with their peers is unconstitutionally rooted in anti-transgender bias, and the Association’s claim to ensure equal opportunities for student athletes rings hollow,” Jason Starr, a litigation strategist at the HRC, said in the statement. “The reckless indifference to the wellbeing of our client and her family, and all transgender students across the State, will not be ignored.”
Through the HRC, the trans student and her parents, Jessica and Gary Norton, declined to comment. The student’s mother did, however, issue a statement last week suggesting county officials outed her daughter by launching the investigation.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, signed a law in 2021 barring trans girls and women from competing on female sports teams in public schools. About half of the country’s states have similar laws restricting trans athletes’ ability to participate in school sports. A representative for the Florida governor’s office directed NBC News’ request for comment to the state’s Education Department.
The department did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment, but in a social media post Tuesday, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. commended the association’s decision to penalize the high school and the trans athlete and the state law that led to those actions.
“Thanks to @GovRonDeSantis, Florida passed legislation to protect girls’ sports and we will not tolerate any school that violates this law,” he said in a post on X. “We applaud the swift action taken by the @FHSAA to ensure there are serious consequences for this illegal behavior.”
The trans student at the center of Monarch High School’s sports controversy and her parents filed a suit over the sports law in 2021 against DeSantis, the Broward County School Board and several other Florida officials. The family argued that the state law violated Title IX, a landmark civil rights law that prevents sex-based discrimination at both public and private schools that receive funding from the federal government. A federal judge denied the family’s challenge to the law last month.
Becky Pepper-Jackson, 13, a transgender teen at the center of a legal battle over transgender participation in West Virginia sports, after a hearing in Richmond, Va., on Friday. Shuran Huang for NBC News
Becky Pepper-Jackson, 13, sat in a courtroom Friday morning while lawyers argued over a law in her home state of West Virginia that would ban her from running on the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her middle school.
The hearing in front of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was the most recent update in her more than two-year legal battle, which began in May 2021, when she was 11, a month after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that bars transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams in middle school, high school and college.
The appeals court will decide whether the law will take effect, and its decision could also start a chain of events that could land Becky’s case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Becky’s mom, Heather, said Becky will often stay late at track and field practice. Sometimes she’ll even practice discus and shot put in their backyard in the rain.
“She likes to do the best in everything, be it algebra or running or shot put or discus,” Heather said. “She tries to excel in everything that she does, just like any other kid.”
Becky said she’s continued her fight after all this time because she loves playing sports.
“I want to keep going because this is something I love to do, and I’m not just going to give it up,” she said. “This is something I truly love, and I’m not going to give up for anything.”
‘It shouldn’t be that hard to be a kid’
Running has always been a family sport for Becky. She has run with her mom and her two brothers since she was a small child, though her running routine has changed slightly since one of her brothers went to high school and Heather is waiting on a knee replacement.
In the meantime, Becky, who is in eighth grade, has thrown herself into discus and shot put. She said she does two types of training for it. Sometimes, she works on her form while throwing lighter or bigger discs or spheres. Most of the time, she said she and her teammates go into what’s called “the pit,” and they get to throw with the high school students. She said she likes how discus and shot put are “polar opposites.”
“With shot put, it’s more like just throw it really hard and hope for the best. You have to be really aggressive,” Becky said. “But in discus, it’s very graceful and all about speed instead, which is what I like best about it.”
West Virginia was among the first states to restrict some or all trans student athletes from playing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identities. Just days after Justice signed the bill in April 2021, he was unable to provide an example of a trans student athlete in the state trying to gain an unfair advantage.
Rather, Justice relied on his experience as a sports coach to justify the law. “I coach a girls’ basketball team, and I can tell you that we all know what an absolute advantage boys would have playing against girls,” he told MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle at the time.
Heather said she and Becky decided to file the lawsuit because, “if she didn’t start the fight, who’s going to?”
She said their lives haven’t changed much over the last two years, though they are more aware of their surroundings when they’re out in public, since their photos are online and some people might recognize them.
“At school, her friends still treat her exactly the same, her teachers treat her exactly the same,” Heather said. “She’s just a regular kid that just wants to play, so that hasn’t changed at all.”
Ahead of the hearing Friday, Heather said they were hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
“We don’t like to be in the spotlight,” Heather said. “We’re just country people from West Virginia, so it’s a little overwhelming. I’m nervous for her, because I know what joy she gets from doing her sports, and every kid needs sports. It’s just a moral foundation they need to get. They learn responsibility, they learn camaraderie, they learn that people depend on them. And I see how much fun she has.”
In the last three years, 23 states in addition to West Virginia have passed similar restrictions on trans student athletes, with many of their supporters making arguments similar to Justice — that trans girls have an inherent advantage over cisgender girls, or those who aren’t transgender. Courts have temporarily blocked laws in West Virginia, Idaho and Arizona. A court has also permanently blocked Montana’s law as it applies to colleges, but not for K-12 schools.
Becky said it’s been “disappointing” to watch state after state pass trans athlete restrictions during her lawsuit. Heather said she gets upset “because it seems to be the issue du jour.”
“Politicians are out there fighting for votes, and they just jump on a bandwagon without ever researching it for themselves, when if people would just do their own research, the biology and the science is out there to prove what we’re looking for,” Heather said. “We just want to be accepted, and she just wants to be a kid. It shouldn’t be that hard to be a kid.”
An ‘equal and fair playing field’
The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, which are representing Becky, argue that West Virginia’s law is discriminatory and violates Title IX, a federal law that protects students from sex-based discrimination, and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
During Friday’s hearing in front of the 4th Circuit, Becky’s lawyer, Joshua Block of the ACLU, said Becky has received puberty-blocking medication, which has prevented her from going through testosterone-driven puberty and receiving any potential physical advantage. West Virginia’s law, he argued, “goes out of its way to select criteria that do not create athletic advantage but do a perfect job of accomplishing the function of excluding transgender students based on their transgender status.”
The law “could have been drafted to actually adopt criteria that are relevant to athletic performance, but it doesn’t,” Block argued. “It picks criteria that define being transgender.”
Lindsay See, the solicitor general for West Virginia, argued that the district court, in ruling in favor of the law, “got it right that sports is a uniquely strong case for differences rooted in biology and call for sex-based distinctions to help ensure an equal and fair playing field.”
See also noted that experts for both the state and the plaintiff established that there is at least a slight inherent physical difference between trans girls and cisgender girls even prior to puberty. This, See argued, justifies the law. However, Block argued in rebuttal that the state’s expert conceded that any differences before puberty are “minimal.”
Block estimated that the court could release its decision in the next three to six months.
“We really hope that the judges were able to recognize this for what it was, which was discrimination against trans girls solely based on the fact that they’re trans,” he said in a phone call after Friday’s hearing.
Regardless of how the court decides, an appeal is almost guaranteed. Whichever party does appeal will have the opportunity to appeal to the entire 4th Circuit or to the Supreme Court. The ACLU is also litigating a similar law in Idaho and is awaiting a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Depending on the outcome, that case could also be appealed to the high court.
One of the 4th Circuit judges acknowledged the stakes of the outcome at the end of Friday’s hearing.
“I want to thank all counsel for their arguments today, realizing we’re probably only a waystation on the way to the Supreme Court,” Judge G. Steven Agee said.
enjoy living in Kansas. Specifically, Lawrence, Kansas, where I can attend a watercolor painting class at the local plant shop on Wednesday, the weekly drag show on Thursday, and a vintage clothing pop-up on Friday. But despite the beauty of the rolling Flint Hills, there is something ugly happening in the place I call home. Growing hostility towards the transgender and non-binary community is being codified through policies and perpetuated through violence that threatens our basic human rights.
Rights activists see such rollbacks of hard-fought progress spreading across the US, and we’re bracing for new attacks that will test the country’s purported commitment to equality. The fight is the most grueling for those of us who are from Black and other marginalized communities.
In the last year, violence claimed the lives of at least 25 transgender and gender non-conforming people in the US, with violence disproportionately affecting Black transgender women. These numbers are most likely underrepresented, as attacks against the LGBTQ+ community often go undocumented.
Black and Brown trans people should be able to live as their most authentic self without fear of transphobic violence and discrimination.
To add to the growing animus, some states chose to attack transgender rights through legislation rather than protect them. This past June, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, declared a state of emergency after more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced in 41 states. Hundreds of these bills specifically targeted transgender people.
Some of these anti-LGBTQ+ bills would limit the ability to update gender information on identity documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates, weaken nondiscrimination laws and protections in employment, and restrict free speech and expression through book and drag performance bans. State bills also attempt to restrict access to medically necessary health care including bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth, prohibit access to public accommodations like public bathrooms, and prevent trans students from participating in school activities like sports. While introducing a bill doesn’t mean it will pass, 84 of these draconian measures made it out of committee and have been signed into law.
Even the introduction of these bills perpetuates harmful stigmas and allows misinformation to spread. I have witnessed how harmful the introduction of these bills has been on members of the trans community I am a part of. In Kansas, 14 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced and four were passed into law in the last legislative session. During that time, my trans friends and peers pleaded with conservative lawmakers to respect their dignity and protect their autonomy over their own bodies. Medical experts testified that the mere act of introducing these bills causes great harm to the mental health of transgender people across the state.
One bill, misnamed the Women’s Bill of Rights though it limits protections for transgender women, passed and went into effect on July 1st. In response, LGBTQ+ activists in Lawrence refused to rest until the City Commission enacted a sanctuary city ordinance, increasing protections for trans people. Despite the immense fear transgender people were feeling in this moment, their message rang loud and clear: LGBTQ+ people have the right to live without fear, and we are not going anywhere.
Make no mistake, allowing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to be passed sends a message that legitimizes homophobic and transphobic sentiment.
There are some hopeful signs. Legislation to outlaw the LGBTQ+ panic defense was introduced in nine states as well as in the US House and Senate this year. Under that defense, people charged with violent crime against LGBTQ+ people can get a reduced sentence or evade criminal liability by stating that the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity prompted the violent act.
As violence against the LGBTQ+ community continues to increase, it is important now more than ever for lawmakers in statehouses across the country and for the federal government to strengthen protections for trans people and especially for the most vulnerable members of this community—Black and Brown trans women. Lawmakers should be recognizing and protecting LGBTQ+ people’s equal dignity under the law. Legislators should support active efforts to quell discrimination, like Kansas’s HB 2178, and codify LGBTQ+ protections. The US Government should also meet its human rights obligations to respond to foreseeable threats to life and bodily integrity, and to address patterns of violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
While activists continue to fight for LGBTQ+ liberation, I am reminded to celebrate the small wins. I remain hopeful when I see young LGBTQ+ people organizing and exercising their right to protest in the name of egalitarianism. They remind me that pride is not something solely limited to the month of June, but a badge of honor we always carry with us.
Bria Nelson is a Researcher and Advocate on Racial Justice and Equity Issues with the Human Rights Watch U.S. Program. Bria is an attorney and concentrates their research on racial justice and equity issues across the U.S., with a particular focus on reparations for enslavement and its legacies.
As a movement lawyer, Bria has also worked to mobilize response and advocacy after the public murder of George Floyd, including undergoing an intensive fellowship training program with Law for Black Lives, an organization focused on grounding movements in Black queer feminism, abolition, and anticapitalism.
Don’t touch that hot stove! Don’t pull the dog’s tail! Don’t say bad words! Tell a kid that they can’t do something and what’s the normal response? Do it. Why? Because your parents, the commanders of your universe, told you not to not to do it (which is the simultaneous birthplace of both your curiosity and independence). Don’t they remember being a kid — and that delicious wanting to know what’s on the other side of “Don’t?”
One of my greatest joys as an author is to inspire kids to read. Books were my curiosity creators and my independence days, dreaming up entire universes of imagination and possibility, all within this hand-held, human-made wonder.
But being told “Don’t read that book.” Or better yet, ban it. Huh? Why?
You — the book banners of the world— have now unleashed one of the oldest unintentional human marketing schemes since the dawn of kids. The “Don’t.” You have done the one thing you can’t do to kids — make something mysterious or forbidden. And now they want to read the book you have banned. I’m sure this was not your intention but, nonetheless, you have unleashed the good intentions behind the power of “Don’t.” Because if the book you’re banning contains forbidden or mysterious information that adults don’t want you to read, it must be worth reading. Taboo sells.
So, to all book banners, thank you.
Banning books? The Greatest Marketing Scheme to get Kids to Read Books Again . . .
Book banners: You are now in the marketing business. Your motto should be, “Books your parents don’t want you to read.” Brilliant. That will seal the deal. Why did “1984” become a bestseller again? Because it was banned again.
And all those obscure books you’re ferreting out to ban? Now you’re really helping to put them on the map, and even making them bestsellers again. Some are books that maybe a few kids might have read, if at all. Now kids — and parents — want to read them because you say not to read them. Brilliant marketing and marvelous adult logic.
The 10-Million Pound Elephant in the Room is the Internet. If you’re scared of the books in the library, you should be horrified at the Internet. You think that banning books about identity, sexuality, racism, slavery, or finger painting is going to stop a kid from wanting to know — if they want to know more? Nope. Now they can turn to your worst nightmare — the Internet. Because most likely what they’ll encounter on the web is absolutely everything you don’t want them to see or hear in the most graphic ways you can and can’t imagine. If nature abhors a vacuum, then curiosity abhors knowledge that’s locked up.
By banning a book, you are choosing to decide my own — and everyone else’s — reading destiny. Freedom is not about taking one’s choice away. It’s about allowing more choices. It’s trusting us to figure it out all on our very own. And the liberty to choose what to read — or not.
Taking away a book that’s offensive offends me. Books are easy to bully. You can find anything in any book you want to be offended by and that’s the ultimate slippery slope of book banning. Heck, you can even be offended by “The Cat in the Hat” or “Winnie the Pooh” if you’re so inclined. But fundamentally when you ban a book, you take away my freedom to be offended by something I may want to read — or not. And that’s offensive.
What are we teaching our kids? Fear. Fear is what we teach our kids when we don’t want them to know. Banning books is about banning knowledge. And when we don’t trust them with knowledge, we lose our ability — and respect to talk. Because fear loves secrecy. It thrives on lack of communication — the worst thing you can do with kids who are trying to figure out the world. It’s so much better to talk with them about ideas that they’re curious about because they’ll find out anyway — and maybe not in a responsible, mature way.
What should we teach our kids? Trust. Let’s trust our kids to explore. To be curious. And give them the freedom to be curious. That’s the most powerful form of liberty for kids.
Our job as parents is to teach our kids where knowledge fits into their world. How to question it and how to use it — or not use it. The freedom to learn, to question, to comprehend, to converse, and to do it over and over again is one of the greatest legacies that books continue to give the world, and nobody can take that liberty and legacy away from us.
Carew Papritz is the award-winning author of the bestselling inspirational book, ‘The Legacy Letters.’ Through his innovative literacy efforts to inspire kids to read, Papriz has created the ‘I Love to Read’ and ‘First-Ever Book Signings’ through his ‘CarewTube’ video series.
As the Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) draws near, members of the LGBTQ+ community are preparing to memorialize those members of our community who were taken from us much too soon as a result of violence and discrimination. When we think about our deceased siblings, we experience a wide range of feelings, from sorrow to fortitude and everything in between. But there is one facet of this battle that is typically disregarded: the predicament of our transgender brothers and sisters who are currently behind bars.
When I think about TDoR, I am reminded of the hostility and violence that transgender people face on a daily basis. Incarcerated trans folks are subjected to the same political and systemic cruelty.
As a transgender woman who was recently imprisoned and housed with men, I have a unique perspective on the difficulties experienced by those who must navigate the complexity of the correctional system while also coping with the harsh reality of being transgender.
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In my time spent in prison, I was forced to adjust to an atmosphere that did not correspond with who I am. I was a trans woman who lived with guys and was attempting to navigate a world that did not acknowledge or comprehend my gender. I was trying to find my place. My everyday struggles were both physical and emotional. Every day was a challenge since there was a glaring lack of acceptance and comprehension on the part of both the inmates and the prison staff.
Transgender people are already overrepresented in the correctional system for a variety of reasons, including prejudice, a lack of access to affirming healthcare, and economic disadvantages. What’s more, the criminal justice system does not adequately accommodate their medical needs. The lack of access to qualified medical treatment and healthcare that affirms gender identity is a major cause for concern. Hormone therapy is a lifeline for many transgender people, and yet in prison, it is frequently denied or delayed.
Once individuals enter a correctional facility, they are often placed in an unwelcoming setting, which makes them even more susceptible to being physically or sexually assaulted. The horrific events that individuals go through when they are detained can be traumatic, and there is frequently neither an accessible treatment nor remedy.
Isolation from the larger LGBTQ+ community is one of the most upsetting elements of being incarcerated as a transgender person. It’s also one of the most common. It is a profound feeling of isolation, and it is challenging to articulate this loneliness to those who could provide support, empathy, and understanding. Not only are there physical walls surrounding you, but there are also emotional and psychological barriers that sometimes feel impossible to overcome.
As we observe TDoR, the experiences of our trans siblings behind bars serve as a glaring reminder of the urgent need for changes to be made in the legal system in this country. The fight for the rights of transgender people does not cease when they are brought into custody; their stories need to be heard.
It’s possible that the harsh reality of life inside a correctional facility will make the already widespread mental health issues that transgender people face even worse. Transgender people who are incarcerated may struggle with challenges like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The trauma of incarceration is made worse when there is a lack of knowledge and empathy for the particular issues that the inmates are dealing with.
While we commemorate those who were killed as a result of violence and discrimination on TDoR, we also have a responsibility to find those who are still being mistreated and provide assistance to them. Their mental wounds are quite real, as, of course, are the physical risks they face. Their narratives are significant, their lives have value, and it is imperative that their voices be heard.
Finding the courage to advocate for myself and other transgender inmates while I was incarcerated was a lifeline for me. Finding that confidence was a challenge. The road leading to change is not an easy one, but it is one that is well worth traveling. There are groups and individuals who are working persistently to reform the criminal justice system, meet the special needs of incarcerated trans people, and provide support for those who these issues have impacted. Supporting, advocating for, and speaking out in favor of this cause is something we can all do if we work together.
It is not merely an act of sentimentality to remember imprisoned transgender folks. Rather, it is a call to action. We have the ability to work together to build a society that is more inclusive and just, one in which every trans person, regardless of their circumstances, has the opportunity to live with dignity, respect, and safety. Let us, in the spirit of TDoR, fight toward a future where the voices of our transgender siblings who are currently incarcerated will no longer be silenced, and where their lives will be cherished and safeguarded.
Let us honor those we’ve lost by making it our mission to make sure that nobody else has to experience these injustices.
Language is our battlefield. It is the arena where our struggle for recognition, acceptance, and justice plays out. When we, Black transgender women, wield words as weapons and shields, we challenge the very system that has oppressed us for far too long. Language isn’t just a tool; it’s our revolution.
Marsha P. Johnson, an iconic figure in our fight for transgender rights, was a force of nature. She defied a world that tried to force her into a narrow box, a world that could not fathom the depths of her struggle. In the past, she referred to herself as a “transvestite,” a term that held a different meaning then. But her life, her journey, and her spirit are far more profound and complex than a single word can capture.
Johnson was a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969, and until now, so much of our understanding of who she was came from accounts by people who did not look like or come from the same place as her. As transness is now more accessible to the world, introducing the Marsha P. Johnson Institute to Black trans people who are resisting, grappling with survival, and looking for community has become a clear need.
Language creates our reality. Without words or language, there is hardly a way to express your lived experience. We have faced a world that didn’t have the vocabulary to understand us, to embrace our stories. It’s a world that cannot fully grasp the layers of our identity.
Language, like us, has evolved. We’ve fought to shed the shackles of outdated labels, just as Johnson did in her time. We, as Black transgender women, stand on the shoulders of icons like her. We recognize the importance of embracing a language that represents our experiences.
Yet, in our journey towards emancipation, there are those who persist in using the old, derogatory language – transphobes who see our empowerment as a threat to their prejudices. These individuals, these purveyors of hate, cling to antiquated words as if their bigotry depended on it. They use these words to belittle us, rob us of our dignity, and perpetuate stereotypes that have haunted us for far too long.
The idea that trans people are having some sort of advantage in the world is asinine. This ideology is directly tied to transphobia.
We, as Black transgender women, understand the power of language better than most. We’ve seen how words can elevate and emancipate, and we’ve witnessed how they can crush and dehumanize. The struggle for pronouns should never be a struggle at all. Pronouns are the essence of self-definition, and we stand unwavering in our right to claim them, just as we do our names.
“Cisgender,” a term that is now used more frequently, did not just appear in the world. We fought for it, just as we’ve fought for the right to define ourselves. This evolving lexicon is more than just words; it’s the vocabulary of our existence, the alphabet of our rights. Even the use of pronouns has been a battle. The honoring of pronouns will never happen if people don’t actually release their need to be right, powerful, and dominating about humanity as they know it.
The battle rages on. The transphobes, those champions of prejudice and hatred, continue to wield their outdated, offensive language as a weapon. They deliberately misgender us, using our deadnames to mock and diminish our humanity. It’s an affront to our very being, an attempt to strip us of our identity.
As the CEO of an organization dedicated to the memory of Marsha P. Johnson, we hold the torch she lit for us, and we recognize the unparalleled might of language in our fight. To honor her legacy and the countless others who have paved the way, we must not merely champion evolving language; we must demand that society respect our terminology, our pronouns, and our identities.
The evolution of transgender language is our war cry against the oppressors, a battle for inclusivity and justice. It’s not just linguistic change; it’s a declaration of our humanity. It’s a shout to the world that we refuse to be silenced. It’s a thunderous message that we, Black transgender women, demand acceptance and respect.
Words have the power to heal, to unite, and to uplift. But they also have the power to wound, to divide, and to oppress. Our words become weapons for justice in this struggle, and we will not yield. We will fight not only for the evolution of language but for the entire belief system of humanity. Our belief systems must change, or we will continue to have more genocide, and those who fight back will always be the ones seen as violent.
There is a certain magic among trans people simply existing. Just our presence, our reluctance to conform to the constructs around gender that have been instilled in all of us since birth is powerful.
Trans people offer everyone a certain freedom, a permission to exist authentically and embrace all of the innate elements that make us human. They show us it is possible to disregard the arbitrary notion that certain traits, emotions, and expressions are “masculine” or “feminine.”
At 30, I look back to my childhood and realize that I grappled with this conflict around gender and performance well before I could contextualize my own experience as a nonbinary trans person.
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As a child of the ‘90s, I didn’t have the language to express my relationship with gender. I was friends with all of my classmates until about fifth grade. It’s that fateful age when children begin to self-actualize, notice how others are similar or different from them, and figure out how society expects them to behave with that information in mind.
The group of girls I regularly hung out with in my grade slowly ushered me out of their posse. As their interest in boys began to pique in a new and exciting way, I’m sure having me, a boy, as part of their clique was no longer conducive.
The boys in my class were similarly posturing themselves to perform for the girls, amping up this perception of needed masculinity and toughness as they prepared to enter middle school and adolescence. As essentially the only boy who shamelessly hung out with girls and embraced more “feminine” activities and attributes, it was clear I didn’t fit in with them either.
I came out as queer during my freshman year of high school. In Northern Colorado back in 2007, that was enough of a rarity. I was probably one of less than five out kids, and it put a target on my back.
Within a year, I met Melaina through my school’s gay-straight alliance. We were both 14 and attending a club-sanctioned event, an equality summit with LGBTQ+ speakers. Melaina was the first out trans person I ever met, and even before she shared her identity with me, there was something ethereal about her presence. She carried herself with this immense confidence, an authentic IDGAF attitude that most teenagers only practice as a ploy. But Melaina was the real deal.
And it makes sense. If I felt ostracized as a cis gay boy at my high school, I can’t imagine what she had to go through as an openly trans girl.
We sat next to each other on the bus, and I was in awe of Melaina’s openness and self-assurance. She was brazenly confident and knew exactly what she was about, referencing conflicts with bullies underscored by an unmatched nonchalance that I couldn’t even fathom.
The shackles of gender roles
When I talk about transness and breaking down gender roles, I posture it as being beneficial for all people. It’s the same way I talk about feminism to get men on board — like, “Hey, this is actually good for you, too.”
Humans are immensely complex. I still can’t fathom how so many people still believe that just because someone has specific anatomy or chromosomes (a sentiment that still often conveniently ignores biological sex as a spectrum), they must conform to a single, rigid expression and role. It eliminates so many aspects of what makes us human and minimizes the complexity of the human experience.
I caught onto these expectations early, as my demeanor was much more sensitive, emotional, and “feminine” while I was growing up as a boy. I was just being myself. I didn’t bury the elements that society told me were inappropriate for my gender, and fortunately, my parents didn’t push me to do so.
Since fifth grade — when those gendered differences became abundantly more clear — I’ve often found myself wondering why gender is so important in our world to begin with. What would society look like if we didn’t have these set rules that so many people at such young ages are pressured to conform to?
I especially think of the boys I was surrounded with in my childhood and adolescence who were silly and carefree in elementary school and gradually hardened as they got older.
As a queer and trans adult, I’ve only maintained friendships with two cis straight men, mostly because it’s clear that so many don’t know what to do when they find themselves interacting with me. I can see them processing how they “should” treat me — I’m not a woman, so that’s out the window; and while I may have similar physical features, I’m clearly not a man or at least don’t share that same social experience in the way I present and carry myself.
I can’t imagine how stifling this posturing has to be as someone who threw it out a long time ago. By no means am I saying that all cishet folks subconsciously consider gender so heavily in their interactions, but I witness it often in my day-to-day life.
I see that my existence, and the existence of transgender and gender-nonconforming people as a whole, is often perceived as threatening to the status quo. It’s daunting to those people who never questioned these arbitrary messages, whose identities are deeply confined to these restrictions.
Freedom for all
This conversation often makes me reflect on a statement made by nonbinary poet and activist Alok Vaid-Menon on “The Man Enough” podcast in 2021: “People have been taught to fear the very things that have the potential to set them free.”
In this years-old video that replays in my mind frequently, Vaid-Menon says, “The reason you don’t fight for me is because you’re not fighting for yourself fully. And any movement that’s trying to emancipate men from the shackles of heteropatriarchy, emancipate women from traditional gender ideology, has to have trans and nonbinary people at the forefront because we are actually the most honest. We’re tracing the root.”
I’m not saying that every person is trans or that every cis man or woman must have some sort of latent identity they have yet to address. But when we are taught so aggressively, so consistently to conform to specific expectations based on what a doctor saw between our legs shortly after we entered this world, we are no doubt inhibited from fully embracing ourselves as we are.
I intimately felt it as I tried to cram myself into the ill-fitting “male” label for the bulk of my life – until I saw how other trans and nonbinary people were happily navigating their lives beyond these constraints.
I rejoice, however, when I see the progress among cis men addressing the harms of toxic masculinity. This is evident when we see the many ways cis men today look to unlearn these harmful teachings about how they “should” act in society through workshops, classes, and therapy. I’ve seen groups explicitly made for men to be emotionally vulnerable with one another, to reimagine what modern masculinity even means. Simply allowing themselves to be emotionally mature, to communicate, and to feel is paramount to their personal concept of gender and what it means to be a man. After all, there is an inherent power in vulnerability.
While I tout these wins, it’s impossible to ignore today’s male influencers who relay the same tired, harmful messages of the past — often littered in misogyny, homophobia and transphobia — surrounding “proper” gender roles to their audience of impressionable young boys.
The fight rages on, and the transgender community remains at the forefront.
Trans people should receive support from their cis counterparts because it’s the right thing to do, because we need help from groups in power to ensure equity. But I also hope cis people understand that these constraints around gender that trans folks actively push against every day don’t benefit anyone. They rob us of humanity, authenticity, and connection with one another.
I think about the queer and trans spaces in which I regularly find myself in LA, which of course include cisgender people, too. In these spaces, we can all be whoever we are without a value judgment around our existence.
I witnessed this magic before I came out as trans myself, and while we have a mountain of obstacles to overcome, I find relief in thinking about the world taking on that same model — every person expressing themselves innately as they see fit, with gender roles and restrictions fully off the table.
The trans community has challenged tired notions, these prevailing messages around how we “should” act in society, in favor of our own pursuit of happiness.
This Trans Awareness Week, I hope that our cisgender peers and allies can look to the trans community like I once did, as role models who recognize that this fight belongs to and benefits the entire human race.
“The experiences of non-binary youth in organized team sports in Canada have been drastically understudied,” said researcher Martha Gumprich.
“Our report found that many youths avoid team sports due to abuse and discrimination but there are some solutions that would make sport more inclusive for non-binary participants and benefit everyone.”
Two-thirds of non-binary youths surveyed said that their reasoning for not joining an organised sports team boiled down to rules that would force them to play on a binary-gendered (men’s or women’s) team.
Meanwhile, four out of five non-binary youths said that they had avoided joining an organised team sport because of the layout of changing rooms or locker rooms.
Half of those surveyed said that they had avoided organised sports teams because of the teammates and coaches. Similarly, half opted not to take part because of discriminatory comments they had witnessed.
Finally, one in six non-binary youths avoided organised sport because they had witnessed someone being physically harassed because of their gender.
Compared to their US neighbours, Canada hasn’t been too strict with restricting trans or non-binary people from their chosen sport – though there is plenty of grey area for athletes and teams to navigate.
A star player on Canada’s Women’s World Cup 2023 team was a non-binary athlete.
Footballer Quinn has also made history as the first out trans, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal, after taking home the gold for Canada at the Tokyo Games.
Meanwhile, in the US, 23 states have passed laws that restrict transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming athletes’ participation in organised sports – particularly school sports – in the past three years alone.
This can have serious repercussions on gender non-conforming youth, who are excluded – voluntarily or not – from team sports that help to build, not just a players’ athletic abilities, but their social skills, team-building abilities, and leadership and problem-solving skills.
Alongside their findings, TransConnect and Simon Fraser University researchers offer a number of possible solutions to these concerns that would encourage non-binary athletes to participate in sports again.
Those solutions include: allowing non-binary participants to choose the gendered team they’d like to play on, offering co-ed team options or dividing teams by competitiveness, creating gender-neutral changing areas with single stalls, and offering better education on diverse genders and sexualities.
“Participation in physical activities, particularly activities with the sociality of team sports, is a key part of preventative health measures,” said Simon Fraser University’s health sciences assistant professor Travis Salway.
“Non-binary youth deserve the same opportunity to participate in team sports as everyone else.”
We often feel duty-bound to tackle everything from a worsening climate catastrophe to systemic racism, economic inequality, global humanitarian crises, public health emergencies, rampant corporate greed and the potential threat of authoritarianism, just to name a few. It can be not only daunting, but also downright exhausting to face the challenges inherent in fighting for a more just and peaceful world.
At the same time, we’re organizers precisely because we want to make progress on intractable problems, and we know the solutions lie in the communities more directly impacted. In the midst of moments that feel hopeless – where it’s easy to slip into despair or inaction – we can instead use proven tools to spark action.
So, where to begin? It often takes multiple, aligned strategies to win meaningful change, and, as we point out in our book, Practical Radicals, context matters when you’re considering the best strategies to advance your vision. While some organizers may need to stop and take a bigger, long-term view before launching their efforts, others might need to hit the ground running to begin building a deep and diverse base of supporters. Drawing on our combined six decades of experience in movement building and organizing for progressive causes, we wrote our book to offer organizers some guidance in this fraught moment and to help them identify the strategies they need to win. Along the way, we dive into approaches used by dozens of other organizers past and present to show why strategy is vital to building and sustaining any movement for change.
One of the efforts we zeroed in on can be summed up as “how people make change when things are as terrible as they can be.” The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) was founded in 1982 as the AIDS crisis had begun to devastate gay communities from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between. GMHC exemplifies the strategy for social change we call collective care: efforts by an oppressed group to meet its own needs for survival and safety, often when the state fails to meet urgent human needs.
GMHC focused on education on HIV and prevention, supportive care for those who were sick and policy advocacy – work that ultimately laid the foundation for the emergence of more militant action later. Volunteers led and created an astonishing array of programs including GMHC’s signature “buddy program” where ten thousand volunteers were placed with total strangers in their homes to provide practical daily help, compassionate care and emotional support.
GMHC built trust, took risks and built care infrastructure with a political goal in mind: ending the AIDS crisis and uprooting homophobia. They rooted their policy advocacy in the experience of the people they were serving, as former volunteer-turned-leader David Hansell told us. GMHC moved the ball forward in ways that the movement’s direct action side couldn’t, but a collective-care group could. An example is how GMHC built bridges to important stakeholders like leaders in the Catholic Church who – despite their appalling hostility toward gay communities during the crisis – were critical to passing policies to support people with AIDS and could be won over on a tactical basis.
As former GMHC executive director Tim Sweeney said, “We bent the arc of the pandemic. We changed it. We didn’t bring an end to it, unfortunately, which is what our goal was, but we definitely saved millions of people.”
Collective care is a vastly underappreciated but essential element for social change movements. It strengthens solidarity by building trust and relationships that can be harnessed for political action. When care is embedded in the culture of an organization, it increases the capacity of ordinary people to engage in struggle and of organizers to stay in the movement for the long term.
Collective care strategies, like disruptive movements, often emerge as a response to crises and tragedies, particularly when governments are failing to meet the moment. When it feels like the world is ending, as it did for queer people in the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, sometimes the only thing you can do is turn toward each other and care for one another. In such circumstances, collective care can be a form of both survival and strategy.
And we know change doesn’t happen overnight. Like so many movements for transformative change, the AIDS crisis presented upsurges of intense activity between slow periods of frustration and even defeat. Landmark AIDS legislation wasn’t passed until 1990, eight years after GMHC’s founding, and there was still important work left to do. Movements need stamina, which is where care becomes not only helpful but also essential to staying in the fight.
This is all why you see elements of collective care strategies present in many different organizing lineages, including parts of the Black radical tradition, mutual aid, feminism, disability justice, labor, environmental, immigrant rights, and Indigenous traditions. And it operates alongside other, important strategies to win, like changing the narrative and engaging in disruptive action.
GMHC is emblematic of many movements for change that show that, even amidst periods of rage and despair, the world is full of generosity and kindness. By looking back, we can find the inspiration to move forward. Our movement ancestors show us that there is always a strategic and humane response available to us, even in the darkest times. They rose to the challenge of taking care of one another and our shared planet in circumstances even more challenging than we face today.
In the spirit of that history, every organizer needs to be rooted in lineage. You can find strength in generations of organizers who left us tools and strategies – including, notably, how to build and care in dark times – that we can renew and adapt to change the world.
The Gay Games XI 2023 open this weekend in Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico. Hong Kong was scheduled for 2017 before the global pandemic, and Guadalajara was selected in 2022 to allow for more athletes to compete. The 2023 Gay Games will be the first time the event has been hosted in Asia or Latin America. The Games have been criticized for the selection of Hong Kong due to its record on LGBTQ+ and human rights.
Primarily organized in 1982 by former Olympian Dr. Tom Wadell and others as the Gay Olympics, the event was forced to change its name to the Gay Games following a landmark copyright infringement lawsuit by the U.S. Olympic Committee that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Each city is expected to host over 2,000 participants from up to 45 countries and territories.
“Not only have we been able to introduce the games to the region, we have the highest number of participants ever from Asia join the Gay Games in its 41-year history,” Alan Lang, the Gay Games co-chair, said at a press conference earlier today according to Reuters.
The choice of Hong Kong for the Games met with criticism from detractors from a variety of sources. LGBTQ+ and human rights advocates questioned the wisdom of holding the games in the city. While same-sex sexual relations are legal and a recent Supreme Court decision gave some legal rights to same-sex couples, Equaldex notes that Hong Kong does not recognize marriage equality and has no anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community.
Taiwan chose not to participate in the Games, fearing the arrest of their athletes by Chinese authorities.
“The main reason … this time is that the safety of Taiwanese players cannot be guaranteed,” said Yang Chih-chun, of Taiwan’s Gay Sports and Movement Association, Reuters reported.
A group of 20 Hong Kong residents filed a legislative petition in opposition to the Games, saying they promoted “sexual indulgence” and undermined traditional values, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
“Organizing the Gay Games is inviting trouble and threatening national security,” a statement from the petitioners read. “By infiltrating our culture, education, and legal systems, there is an attempt to undermine ethical values surrounding gender, marriage, and family and carry out a color revolution.”
The 2023 Gay Games XI continue through November 11.