Layshia Clarendon was overcome with emotion when she learned that Idaho had passed anti-transgender legislation, making it the first state in the country to outright prohibit transgender girls from participating in girls’ and women’s sports.
Clarendon’s reaction was as follows: first, rage that someone would go after the transgender community. Then there was disgust, because this particular law targeted children. Finally, Clarendon expressed his displeasure that “this is the country I live in, where people are so thirsty for power that they’ll do things that harm very real people.”
The sports world as a whole appeared unprepared for the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation proposed by state legislatures across the country: According to the Human Rights Campaign, 28 states have proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation for 2022, including 18 bans on transgender athletes and Florida’s contentious “Don’t Say Gay” law. According to Clarendon, everyone should have seen this coming.
Clarendon is a nine-year professional basketball veteran who uses all pronouns interchangeably and became the WNBA’s first transgender player last year after undergoing top surgery. They are an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights and inclusion. And they believe that the fight over transgender athletes is only the beginning.
“Sports is a very binary space, so it was the perfect entry point for the Republican Party to start this culture war, under the guise of ‘protecting women and girls,’ which we know they don’t actually care about,” Clarendon told USA TODAY Sports.
Clarendon is referring to HB2, a 2017 bill that sparked outrage across the country. The bill had two major components: it overturned and prohibited statutes that protected the LGBTQ community from discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and — perhaps more controversially — it prohibited transgender students from using bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity.
The backlash was immediate. The NBA relocated its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans, citing “long-standing core values of our league” such as “diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect for others.”
The controversy surrounding LGBTQ issues in sports was reignited in March, when transgender woman Lia Thomas won the women’s NCAA 500-yard championship.
Multiple major sporting events, including the 2023 NHL All-Star game (Florida) and the 2023 men’s and women’s Final Four, are scheduled to take place in states that are hostile to the LGBTQ community in the coming months (both in Texas).
According to Hudson Taylor, the founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, the flood of anti-LGBTQ legislation is a multifaceted issue.
Then there’s the issue of consistency. While Taylor is quick to point out that “we’ve erred on the side of inclusion vs. exclusion over time,” transgender athletes must jump through different hoops depending on which governing body they compete under, whether it’s the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA, or their local state high school association.
Finally, Taylor mentioned an unfortunate reality: “When faced with a crisis, I believe sport governing bodies would rather deal with it internally than discuss it publicly.” He mentioned other sports controversies that were dealt with behind closed doors, such as athlete sexual assault and concussion research.
Taylor and Clarendon both stated that large governing bodies frequently create committees to address a contentious issue – and that’s about it.
The ACLU is defending multiple transgender students in lawsuits challenging anti-LGBTQ laws across the country, including a 10-year-old transgender girl in Indiana identified only as A.M. in court filings.
The Indiana legislature overturned Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto in late May, prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in K-12 schools.
Falk stated that the young girl at the heart of their case has been living as a girl since she was three years old and that “virtually no one knows her as anything other than a girl,” including her classmates and teammates.
Clarendon, who was not familiar with the details of the Indiana case, thinks the notion that these laws are in place to “protect” women’s sports is ridiculous.