With help from Rishika Dugyala and Teresa Wiltz
What up Recast family! The economy added 431,000 jobs in March, dropping the unemployment rate to 3.6 percent, and there’s a new GOP effort to sink ex-NFLer Herschel Walker’s Senate bid in Georgia. First, though, a look at the accelerated push to restrict transgender participation in school-sanctioned sports.
Trans issues are roiling politics, of which Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride is all too aware. And what the Democrat sees worries her.
This week, two Republican governors signed laws barring trans women and girls from participating in school athletics consistent with their gender identity – after another pair of GOP governors took the opposite tack, vetoing similar bills.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans, led by Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, sponsored legislation this week honoring Emma Weyant as the “rightful winner” of NCAA Division I Women’s 500-yard Freestyle event – after Weyent lost to Lia Thomas, a transgender woman who’s become a Republican lightening rod.
Many Republicans see preventing transgender athletes from participating in women’s and girls’ athletics as a way to protect the integrity of sports. It’s an issue likely to galvanize Republican voters in the midterm elections.
Nationwide, 14 states have laws on the books banning trans women from competing in sports, according to the Movement Advancement Project – and nearly half of state legislatures are considering other bans on trans athletes, including in Delaware. (Transgender women have been allowed to compete in women’s categories in the Olympics since 2003 and the NCAA since 2010.)
Enter McBride, a former activist who made history in 2020 when she became the highest-ranking openly transgender elected official in the country. Last week, she chaired a hearing on SB 227 – the video clip of which quickly made the rounds on Twitter for McBride’s impassioned speech.
It’s a bill calling for student-athletes in the state to compete in sports or on teams “associated with their biological sex, as determined at or near birth,” based on a birth certificate or equivalent government document. Given the makeup of the Delaware Legislature – Democrats control both chambers – this measure has little chance of passing.
Still, as McBride sees it, the Delaware bill is indicative of a national strategy limiting equality for the LGBTQ community. We chop it up over why she believes these sports bans are misguided – and why she thinks there will one day be a trans president of the United States.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THE RECAST: It’s been a week since your hearing on SB 227. What’s been the reaction from the public?
MCBRIDE: The most important reaction to the hearing that I saw were messages from young trans people who reached out to me and shared that, for the first time, they really felt like someone understood them and was truly fighting for them, who was just like them in government.
Despite the fact that the legislation was, from my perspective, a negative, discriminatory, cruel piece of of legislation, people who watched the hearing or went to watch it later on said … the hearing overall was hopeful for them. But just as, if not more importantly, the fact that the overwhelming number of people who were providing public comment were in opposition to the legislation and in support of trans people in our lives.
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THE RECAST: During the hearing, Sen. Bryant Richardson (R) said his bill was about “fairness” in sports. He also said that the aim was to protect women and girls from injuries and opportunities to gain scholarships.
There are a lot of people who share Richardson’s view. Explain to me why you think those assumptions are wrong and in your opinion, why you feel like this bill is so misguided.
Video: State Senator of Delaware Sarah McBride on the dangers of the transgender sports bans
MCBRIDE: Look, I understand that the public is still very much learning about who trans people are [and] about our full diversity. And I understand that in the absence of knowing someone who is trans, it’s easy to have a very particular image of who transgender people are in your mind.
I also understand there’s a reason why anti-trans forces are focusing in on athletic programs: they have failed on the overarching question of embracing trans people writ large. They have failed on the question around bathroom access. They have failed, time and time again, on the policy proposals they put forward to license and mandate discrimination.
But the initial reaction for some people might well [be] biology matters in sports.
First off, when we’re talking about school sports, we are talking about educational programs that provide students the opportunity to learn about teamwork and persistence and the inevitable wins and losses of life and how to grapple with those.
Second … within all sports, there’s biological diversity, there’s physiological diversity, and some of those biological and physiological realities for students give them competitive edges.
I will tell you, I’m bad at every sport.
But that diversity exists within every gender identity. It exists within cis [gender] students and trans students. And legislation that comes before us that isn’t making individualized determinations, that isn’t actually looking at these issues of disparities and competitiveness, whether that’s access to private coaching, whether that’s differences in height, or actual cardiovascular capacity, but specifically rooted in a protected class’s identity.
That is taking a blanket stereotype and imposing a policy that creates a barrier to access for that community.
THE RECAST: How much does popular American culture kind of play into these stereotypes?
You mentioned during your hearing the 2006 movie starring Amanda Bynes “She’s the Man,” about a teenage girl impersonating her brother at a school and playing on the soccer team. Another movie comes to mind, the 2002 film with actor Miguel A. Núñez “Juwanna Mann.” His character gets thrown off a men’s basketball team and later impersonates a woman to play on a women’s basketball team.
How much do these fictional depictions impact how people are approaching these real-life discussions surrounding trans athletes and sports?
MCBRIDE: I absolutely think popular culture writ large impacts our public discourse around trans people.
For decades, we have had storylines that are about trans people that aren’t played by trans people, aren’t written by trans people, are not a byproduct of consultation with trans people that essentially portray trans people as either a dead body and a drama or a punchline and a comedy.
In the absence of nuanced, comprehensive, diverse representations in popular culture, and in the absence of a personal experience with a trans person … it allows for anti-trans forces to tap into fears, to stoke misinformation and to create hysteria around a particular political issue. That’s not rooted in reality. And that’s not rooted in the full diversity of a community.
One of the things I’ve been saying is that trans people have been participating in sports consistent with our gender identity and losing for decades.
But just because a trans person dares to pursue their dreams and actually succeeds, doesn’t mean that they should be penalized for it. As we all gain a deeper understanding of who trans people are, these issues no longer are abstract and become about real people who just want to play with their friends … when we’re able to get past those and see trans people as individualized human beings, we’ll get past this desire and ability for anti-LGBTQ forces to target us for discrimination.
Video: State Senator McBride on possibility for broader conversation on Trans issues within GOP
THE RECAST: Well, we are seeing some shifts, particularly Utah, in Indiana, where GOP governors are taking a stand against their Republican-led state legislatures passing anti-trans sports legislation. Do you feel like this is creating an opening for conservatives to have a broader conversation on these issues?
MCBRIDE: Yes, and let’s be clear, these extreme forces aren’t actually representative of a small-c conservative mentality. This is state intervention at its worst. It is an example of government overreach simply to score political points.
I thought the Utah governor’s veto message was incredibly powerful and I think incredibly clear on the stakes, when he said he simply wants trans kids to live.
I know that that can sound hyperbolic. But we already know that because of the bullying and the discrimination that trans people face; they are at heightened risk of suicide, they’re at heightened risk of mental health challenges because of that bullying and discrimination.
I thought the Republican governor’s veto message was incredibly clear, and incredibly validating for me as a trans person to see a Republican leader stand up and say, “These bills are not only wrong, they’re not only unnecessary, but they’re harmful.”
THE RECAST: Do you feel like you have some empathy or compassion for Sen. Richardson who introduced SB227 in your state? Do you feel he was coming from a place of maybe misunderstanding or do you see it as a political opportunity on his part?
MCBRIDE: I will not impugn the motives of my colleagues. I have had, broadly speaking, a workable relationship with Sen. Richardson. We disagree fundamentally on a lot of issues.
I don’t know what Sen. Richardson’s motives were in introducing this legislation. I do try to always assume the best intentions.
What I do know is that this issue is bigger than any one sponsor of a bill in Delaware. It is a concerted national strategy by the same forces that have resisted equality for the LGBTQ community at every turn.
We’re seeing it in Texas, in Florida, we’re seeing it across the country, as anti-LGBTQ politicians and activists seek to strip trans kids from their parents, try to prevent teachers from being able to be allies, seek to ban health care providers and being able to provide medically necessary health care, seek to keep trans kids from being able to play with their friends and benefit from teamwork and their coaches and their classmates.
Taken all together, this is part of a national strategy … to distract from the broader problem they face of not having a meaningful agenda that speaks to people on the issues that they’re facing in their lives. [The national Republican Party] instead is choosing to talk about issues from trans athletes to critical race theory that are meant to distract and divide the public because they have no ideas to tackle the big issues of our time.
THE RECAST: I know you’ve said one day you think there is going to be a trans president. So should we be anticipating a Sarah McBride in 2024? Maybe 2028 or 2032?
MCBRIDE: (chuckles) I think we’ve taken anyone can be president a little too literally. I’m absolutely loving what I’m doing and I wouldn’t wish being president on my worst enemy.
THE RECAST: That’s not something you hear a politician say very often, but I get it. But you never know, times may change and you may get the urge. I mean, someone else from Delaware has done that. Why not you?
MCBRIDE: The bigger barrier to that is not my trans identity, but the fact that we could not conceivably have two presidents from Delaware within one century. Like that’s not gonna happen! (laughs)
I will say – less jokingly – I am confident that there will be a trans president someday. And that among the many young trans people that I’ve met, one of them will be the future president of the United States.
I’m excited for those trans young people, in whatever area of life and passion they pursue, to see them create that change.
OK Recasters, sending you good vibes as you wrap up your week. Now, on to our weekend to-dos!
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