Column: Hurting transgender kids to shore up the Republican base

Elijah Baay, a transgender young person in Alabama, speaks at the #LoveALTransYouth Press Conference in Montgomery, Ala.
Elijah Baay, a transgender young person in Alabama, speaks on Mar. 30 at the #LoveALTransYouth Press Conference in Montgomery, Ala.
(Andrea Mabry /AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

“There is no study to my knowledge that says doing yoga exercise converts people to Hinduism” — Rep. Jeremy Gray

I imagine when Rep. Jeremy Gray sought the opportunity to represent the 83rd District in the great state of Alabama, he did not think he would need to convince people that yoga wasn’t some sort of Hindu gateway drug. Not in 2018.

I’m sure if there was truly a link between yoga pants and Hinduism, there would be more Hindu temples in the U.S. Sure when the state first banned teaching yoga in school back in 1993, yoga was not nearly as popular as it is today. It was seen as foreign. Now it’s a multibillion-dollar industry and part of our culture. Yet while times have changed, Alabama has not.

Last month, the bill Gray introduced to repeal that law stalled in committee. Meanwhile, the state passed and the governor signed into law a bill that bans transgender youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity. This doesn’t surprise Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.


“You can’t logic people out of something they didn’t logic into,” Keisling told me. “The state legislators are not passing laws driven by logic or what’s best for their people. They are just trying to scare their base for votes and money. That’s why we’re seeing all of these voter suppression bills. That’s why we’re seeing this coordinated effort to hurt transgender kids. It’s not about solving a problem because there wasn’t one.”

President Biden signed an executive order banning discrimination based on gender identity in school sports, among other places, on his first day in office. It was a move that reversed the former administration’s position on the issue. But Biden’s order doesn’t reflect what’s currently happening with the 117 anti-trans bills introduced in 33 states targeting children.


Who does that?

Well, if you follow the money and the lawsuits, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a good place to start looking for answers. The organization is representing four cisgender women from Connecticut who filed a suit claiming they were forced to compete against transgender girls in high school because the state allows transgender students to play on teams matching their gender identity.

This case has set off a rash of bills around the nation banning transgender children from playing on sports teams that reflect their gender identity. Yet most lawmakers introducing these bills cannot point to other cases happening in their state.

This isn’t the first time ADF has attacked the LGBTQ community. The organization supported banning gays from the Boy Scouts and the military. It has linked homosexuality to pedophilia. It fought to criminalize same-sex relationships in Texas. In Europe, ADF is supporting the forced sterilization of transgender people. And the same-sex wedding cake case that found its way to the Supreme Court? Yeah, the group was involved with that as well.

These anti-trans bills dominating the headlines are not about high school sports or safe public restrooms. They’re about homophobia and transphobia masquerading as sound policy. Just like these voter suppression bills are not about stopping fraud and Alabama’s ban on yoga is not about preventing religion from being taught in schools.


The real sick thing about all of this is that we have state legislatures willing to hurt democracy, dismiss mental health, even target elementary school children all in an effort to mobilize and monetize the country’s prejudices and worst fears.

This not an organic, constituent-driven push. These are coordinated efforts by conservative organizations such as ADF, the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation to limit the rights of some people. This movement is driven by elected officials who are comfortable targeting transgender children in exchange for endorsements, campaign funds and, ultimately, reelection.

“We are not talking about world class athletes,” Keisling said. “This is about kids wanting to play sports with their classmates.” This issue is not new. The NCAA has allowed transgender athletes to compete on the teams that align with their gender identity since 2011.

And what about the argument that the children should play sports according to the sex listed on their birth certificates?

“When you tell a transgender person they have to participate in sports according to their sex assignment at birth, you are telling them they cannot participate in sports” Keisling said. “It’s like telling that person they have to shop at a clothing store based on their sex assignment at birth. You’re telling that person they can’t go shopping.”

It reminds me of the pre-marriage equality world when critics would say gays and lesbians could marry as long as it was to someone of the opposite sex. That’s a prison, that isn’t marriage. Of course, ADF fought against same-sex marriage too.

So if you thought this current battle is about high school bowling, you’d be wrong.

This is about stripping away as many rights as possible from the LGBTQ community. It’s about dehumanizing people. It’s about fundraising and firing up the base. And elections.

State officials pushing these bills claim to be protecting children. But the welfare of children has nothing to do with this ugly campaign.