Trans athletes fight draconian laws

- Scott Gleeson

Former University of Montana runner Juniper “June” Eastwood ran a 1500meter time in 3 minutes and 51 seconds before she transition­ed as a transgende­r woman. The women’s world record is 3:55 by Romania’s Paula Ivan in 1988.

Eastwood said she wants people to know that as part of her journey as a trans woman, she followed Montana’s state rules for transition­ing athletes and cares deeply about participat­ing in sports in a way that’s fair and transparen­t.

In 2019, Eastwood became the first Division I transgende­r cross-country runner. As a successful trans athlete, her presence on the track is transcende­nt. And the spirit she brings to her sport has little to do with a desire to dominate her peers. It’s bigger than that.

Eastwood’s trans identity saved her own life from suicide and the demons of gender dysphoria.

She had to sit out a year and take hormone and testostero­ne blockers as part of her transition to adhere to NCAA rules. As a result, her 1500-meter time dropped by more than 30 seconds – down to around 4:24.

“There’s a gray area that gets lost because people see it in (black and white)– you’re born a man or a woman. In reality, it’s a life or death issue for (transition­ing) transgende­r women who have a sport as their sanctuary through dark times,” Eastwood told USA TODAY Sports.

“It becomes, quit the sport that’s saved you or keep competing but be open to scorn.”

The overarchin­g inability of seeing the gray area is further exacerbate­d by 69 proposed bills in 34 U.S. states that have been deemed discrimina­tory by LGBTQ advocacy support groups.

Science has taken a back seat to a political civil war in high school sports, LGBTQ rights experts say. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, seven states – Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississipp­i, Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia – have signed bills into law that do not allow transgende­r girls to compete in high school athletics regardless of hormone therapy; athletes must compete according to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Joanna Harper, physicist and researcher at Loughborou­gh University in London, has been an adviser to the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee on transgende­r inclusion.

She said the bills neglect the science that outlines how a proper transition (and one year off the sport) can ensure fairness at the high school level, as has been administer­ed at the NCAA level for the past decade.

Her research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in March shows that hemoglobin levels in transgende­r women fall to levels in line with cisgender women in the space of three to four months on average.

“What we have is transgende­r female athletes taking drugs to be fair and limit their ability, it’s sort of the opposite of an athlete who takes (steroids) to be unfair,” said Harper, who transition­ed from male to female in 2004 and has experience­d the changes in athletic ability firsthand.

“There isn’t much of an issue before puberty with boys and girls, but if we have a successful trans girl who was successful in boys sports before puberty, then goes into girls sports before hormone therapy, their performanc­e would be world-beating. That isn’t fair. But that’s not what is being proposed. Since every state education system rules its own state, that’s resulted in every state seeming to have a different policy,” Harper said.

Mack Beggs, a trans man, drew national attention in 2018 when he became the Texas state champion in girls’ wrestling.

He wanted to compete in boys’ wrestling, but the state’s University Interschol­astic League wouldn’t allow him because he was assigned female at birth. He had taken testostero­ne enhancers initially when transition­ing from female to male but then opted to take hormone blockers to offset the unfair testostero­ne. Parents and fellow athletes protested.

“What these laws are doing is pushing transgende­r athletes back into the closet,” Beggs said.

“I try to understand the other side, but the main case is ‘we’re trying to protect our children.’ That’s an unrealisti­c fear.”

“As transgende­r athletes, we’re not trying to compete where it’s unfair,” said Eastwood, the Montana high school boys’ cross-country Class A state champion in 2014. “But this doesn’t become an issue unless we’re winning. I wanted to win fairly but compete in the sport I love as who I really am.”

Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports, said the extremism of outright bans has a dangerous connotatio­n for a disenfranc­hised group at a young age.

“A lot of people focus on who is winning and losing,” Zeigler said. “I can see that in profession­al sports, the Olympics or collegiate sports. But kids who are in middle school and high school most of the time just want to compete. That should be driving policy. When people educate themselves, whether Democrats or Republican­s, they can realize that outright bans are cruel and unnecessar­y.

“We should be having a conversati­on about how to include trans girls, not ban them. Should there be a transition period? Yes. But bans are just political posturing.”

Eastwood said politician­s are failing to see the issue on a human level.

“I never would have wanted to be a world record-holder as a (transgende­r) woman,” Eastwood said. “But it’s important for lawmakers to understand why we transition in the first place: So we don’t contemplat­e suicide.

“My biggest worry is that these bills will marginaliz­e and we’ll see an increase in trans suicides. The easiest way to see the gray is acknowledg­e our suffering.

“If lawmakers aren’t willing to sit across the table from transgende­r athletes and listen, then it’s harder to humanize and easier to discrimina­te.”

 ?? COURTESY OF JUNE EASTWOOD ?? June Eastwood competes at a cross-country meet in her senior season.
COURTESY OF JUNE EASTWOOD June Eastwood competes at a cross-country meet in her senior season.

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