early and often

Transphobic Utah Parents Launch Witch Hunt Against Teen

Lawmakers listen as parents speak about the prospect of their children competing against transgender girls in school sports at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 25, 2022. Photo: Samuel Metz/AP/Shutterstock

When a child loses a sports match, it should be a teaching moment. Nobody gets to win all the time, after all. Nobody likes a sore loser, either. But some parents in Utah feel differently. When their daughter lost to another girl, they complained to the Utah High School Activities Association and triggered an investigation into her opponent’s gender. “David Spatafore, the UHSAA’s legislative representative, addressing the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee on Wednesday, said the association — without informing the student or family members about the inquiry — asked the student’s school to investigate,” the Deseret News reported. In response, the school examined the athlete’s enrollment records dating back to kindergarten, all to find out whether she is transgender.

She is not. She just doesn’t look enough like a girl, according to some. “Spatafore said the association has received other complaints, some that said ‘that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough,’” the News said.

Utah legislators had previously passed a bill barring transgender girls from participating in school sports. As the News noted, the ACLU of Utah joined other groups to sue over the bill, “alleging it is discriminatory and unconstitutional.” Until a judge rules on the suit, entities like the UHSAA are left to implement the law — and the parents of sore losers have the means to persecute girls who outperform their children.

The idea that transgender girls pose some dire threat to women’s athletics has become popular with the right wing, and bills like Utah’s have begun to proliferate in conservative states. The New York Times reported in May that 18 states had enacted bills or other statewide rules barring transgender girls from sports.

The laws accompany a raging moral panic over the position of transgender children and adults. Urged on by right-wing media figures such as Libs of Tik Tok, conservatives are censoring books and, in some cases, calling in death threats to children’s hospitals accused, falsely, of performing hysterectomies and genital surgeries on children. There are shades of QAnon here with its obsession over child abuse and pedophilia. In reality, children are the real losers of this modern-day witch hunt.

Critics have warned that attempts to discriminate against transgender girls and women also place other gender-nonconforming people at risk. The case in Utah suggests those warnings were correct. Though Spatafore says the student wasn’t notified that her gender was under investigation, it’s hard to believe she’s unaware that others believe she doesn’t look enough like a girl to compete. Whether she’s gay or straight, cisgender or not, she should be able to compete in peace. Laws like Utah’s provide a refuge for bigots. Designed to police gender, they place the hopes and dreams of so many girls and women at risk.

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Transphobic Utah Parents Launch Witch Hunt Against Teen