Unsportsmanlike: The Right-Wing Attack on Transgender Women and Children — PART I

Long distance runner June Eastwood (r) became the first transgender athlete to compete in DI cross country in 2019, running for the University of Montana in the women’s division. (University of Montana)


In February 2021, two members of Congress from opposing ends of the aisle took the debate over the Equality Act—a proposed bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity—out of the House chamber and into the hallway between their offices.

It began when Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., placed a pink-and-blue transgender pride flag outside of her own office, which just so happened to be across the hall from the office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., in the Longworth House office building. Newman, who has a transgender daughter, raised the trans flag after Greene filed a motion to adjourn the House in an effort to delay the passage of the bill. The congresswoman later shared a video on Twitter in which she can be seen placing the trans flag outside her office, along with the caption: “Our neighbor, @RepMTG, tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is ‘disgusting, immoral, and evil.’ Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.”

On Twitter later that day, Greene posted a video of herself hanging a sign that reads: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE—“Trust the Science!” She also claimed that the Equality Act would “destroy women’s rights and religious freedoms.”

While best known for her embrace of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory and bigoted statements directed at Muslims, Jews, and Americans of color, Greene’s transphobic tirade is the latest example of the controversial congresswoman’s antagonistic behavior masquerading as political discourse. In the weeks that followed, she continued to push her anti-trans narrative on the House floor where she decried the bill as “completely unconstitutional,” an “attack on God’s creation,” and a detriment to women’s sports.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene posted a video of herself hanging a sign that reads: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE—“Trust the Science!”

“You see, as a woman, I have competed in sports, and I’m so thrilled I was able to do that, but I competed against biological women,” Greene said during her floor speech, before expanding on how “biological little girls cannot compete against biological little boys, and they shouldn’t have to.”

The Equality Act passed in the House of Representatives on March 16, 2021, with a final vote of 224-206. While its passage signaled a turning point in anti-discrimination efforts, the bill continues to face criticism from conservatives amplifying Greene’s concerns about, among other issues, transgender women and girls participating in girls and women’s sports. By focusing on the sports angle, conservatives are able to rally behind a fear that Democrats are jeopardizing the safety of women and female athletes by introducing a supposedly unequal playing field. The argument, which is little more than outdated anti-trans narratives masquerading as feminist talking points, is designed to exclude trans athletes while presenting Republicans as defenders of women’s rights.

As Greene and her fellow Republicans continue to galvanize their right-wing base voters in support of their cause, it is important to place the debate in its socio-political and historical context. Understanding Republican resistance to trans rights in women’s sports begins by understanding the complex history of the debate in the United States, as well as its politicization over the last few years.

Trans Women in Sports

For centuries, sports were dominated by men. Dating back to the ancient Egyptians and later the ancient Olympic games, competitive sports were overwhelmingly controlled and operated by male participants, leading to entrenched traditions associated with many sports, including wrestling, sprinting, boxing, and gymnastics. Global female participation in sports did not formally take place until the 20th century while Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any education program—including sports—that receives federal funding, did not pass until 1972.

As women’s sports became normalized, cultural norms were once again challenged by gay and lesbian athletes who demanded representation within the sports world. And while their efforts have received significant attention and support, it wasn’t until the emergence of trans athletes that the traditional binary gender norms of male and female held within the sex-segregated sports world were truly challenged.

According to Eric Anderson and Ann Travers, writing in their anthology “Transgender Athletes in Competitive Sport,” transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals have emerged as “polemic and sensationalized figures in Western media accounts” since the 1950s. The first high-profile example in the U.S. was Renée Richards, a groundbreaking tennis player who underwent gender reassignment therapy in 1975 at the age of 41 before switching over to play in women’s tournaments. (Richards had a successful career on the men’s circuit before transitioning.)

An attendee holds a sign that reads, “Trans Athletes Belong in Sport,” at the National Trans Visibility March in Washington, D.C., Sept. 28, 2019. (Shutterstock)

In 1976, Richards’ gender reassignment was outed by local TV anchor Richard Carlson, the father of far-right Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson. As a result, the United States Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open, and the Women’s Tennis Association required all female competitors to verify their sex with a test of their chromosomes. When Richards refused the test after applying to take part in the 1976 U.S. Open, she was barred from competing in any of the major tennis tournaments that year.

The following year, Richards set an important precedent when she successfully sued the USTA for barring her from competition. The judge also granted Richards an injunction that allowed her to play in the 1977 US Open. She lost in the first round of the singles competition to Virginia Wade but reached the finals in the doubles competition. Richards continued to play for several years, reaching an all-time international ranking of no. 19 before retiring in 1981 at age 47.

While Richards is considered a trailblazer for trans athletes in the United States, she later opposed the International Olympic Committee’s ruling in 2004 allowing transgender people to compete professionally after gender reassignment surgery and two years of hormonal therapy, and also questioned whether she should have been allowed to compete on the women’s tennis tour.

“I know if I’d had [gender reassignment] surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me,” Richards told the writer Emily Bazelon.

The debate regarding whether trans women in sports possess an advantage over cisgender women remains a widely debated topic within the sports world. In 2013, mixed martial art fighter Fallon Fox came out as transgender following two professional MMA fights in women’ divisions. Her announcement was met with criticism and hateful comments from the MMA community, including from a UFC fighter who called her a “sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak” and was later suspended by the organization for his transphobic comments. However, Fox, who transitioned six years prior in 2006, continued to deal with transphobic comments from influential figures in the sport, including stand-up comedian and UFC color commentator Joe Rogan.

“She calls herself a woman but … I tend to disagree,” Rogan said on his eponymous podcast in 2013. “I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You’re a fucking man. That’s a man, OK? I don’t care if you don’t have a dick anymore.”

Remember when commentators said Jackie Robinson had an unfair advantage because Black people had ‘larger heel bones’ than the white men he was competing with?

Fallon Fox

Fox responded to Rogan’s comments in an op-ed for BloodyElbow.com, where she compared his bone density comments to the racism leveled at the first Black player to integrate a Major League team: “Remember when commentators said Jackie Robinson had an unfair advantage because Black people had ‘larger heel bones’ than the white men he was competing with? Are we repeating history yet again with bogus bone claims?” Fox asked in the op-ed.

Later that same year, Fox lost by knockout to Ashlee Evans-Smith, which tamed concerns that Fox had an unfair advantage over cisgender competitors. However, when Fox faced Tamikka Brents in 2014, Brents suffered a fractured orbital bone and a concussion during the bout, which lasted 2 minutes and 17 seconds. After her loss, Brents questioned whether Fox held a natural advantage having been assigned the male gender at birth. Brents’ comments once again fueled transphobic trolling from MMA fans and pundits alike. Fox has not competed since the controversial 2014 bout.

Fallon Fox faced transphobic comments from influential figures in MMA, including stand-up comedian and UFC color commentator Joe Rogan. (Screenshot from 2018 episode)

Two years following the Fallon Fox controversy, Chris Mosier became the first out trans athlete to make a U.S. national team when he qualified for Team USA in duathlon in 2016. Mosier was initially barred from competing in the world championships because he hadn’t had reconstructive genital surgery (medically, an optional part of the transitioning process), which was a condition for all trans athletes wishing to compete for Team USA in the gender category commensurate with their transition. Mosier challenged the IOC policy, leading to updated guidelines that eliminated the surgical requirements. Since then, Mosier has become the first known transgender athlete to compete in the World Championship race and the first trans male athlete to ever compete in an Olympic trial alongside other men.

While trailblazing trans athletes have advocated for and effected change in professional sports over the past few decades, right-wing operatives are now focusing on high schools as the political battleground for transphobic discrimination.

Over the past few years, more than 30 states have introduced bills with the intent of either limiting or outright preventing trans women and children from participating in sports. Republican officials in Minnesota introduced a bill that would criminalize trans girls and women who play sports for girls’ and women’s teams; it would make such participation a petty misdemeanor. Last year, Idaho’s Republican governor signed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which banned trans girls and women from competing in women’s athletics. The bill was passed a day after International Transgender Day of Visibility.

The campaign against trans women competing in women’s sports at the school and collegiate level has also been the focus of far-right activists and media, many of whom have targeted trans athletes in their ongoing cultural warfare.

Trump Signs on to the Trans-Bashing

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, at the end of February, sandwiched between remarks by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a panel on the conference’s mainstage bore the title, “My Pronouns are ‘First Place’ and ‘Winning’: Protecting Women’s Sports.” 

Collegiate track star Linnea Saltz led a procession of moderator and two panelists to the crisp white chairs, followed by South Dakota state Rep. Rhonda Milstead, whose claim to the subject was sponsoring legislation to prevent trans girls and women from joining women’s and girls’ teams in her state. Bringing up the rear was the moderator and lone man on the panel, Terry Schilling of the anti-LGBTQ American Principles Project, whose organization had recently released a transphobic ad featuring a boy beating four girls in a track race.

Addressing the audience, Schilling referenced the conference theme—”America Uncanceled,” an homage to the right wing’s war on alleged “cancel culture.”

“There’s nothing more under attack today than women’s sports,” he said, before turning his attention to Saltz.

Terry Schilling of the anti-LGBTQ American Principles Project moderated a panel at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference.

In response to Schilling asking if she ever competed against a “biological male,” Saltz, who had competed for Southern Utah University on its women’s track team, recounted her coach calling to inform her last year that she would be competing against a trans athlete in the upcoming season, which was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now enrolled in a graduate program at Georgetown University, the idea of competing against a trans athlete in her final year of athletic eligibility was anathema to Saltz, who believed herself to be unfairly disadvantaged by the presence of a trans competitor.

“What is female sports going to look like in 10 to 20 years if we don’t stop these guys?” Schilling asked.

“I feel as if women are going to be watching their own sports from the sidelines. We’re no longer gonna be wanting to compete in sports where we don’t feel as if we’re competing on a level playing field,” Saltz replied.

“You know, Linnea, the thing about this issue is that it’s so treacherous,” Schilling said. “You take a step out into this arena, and the media automatically tries to frame you as a bigot or a hateful person.  … What would you say to transgender athletes who want to compete, who want to do their sports? Do you hate transgender people? Is that why you’re doing this?”

“There’s no part of me that doesn’t want to be inclusive. Obviously, I’m looking for proposed solutions that would create inclusion for everybody but not at the exclusion of biological women,” Saltz replied, breaking into a smile and a little laugh as the audience interrupted her response with applause.

U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz speaking with supporters at an “An Address to Young Americans” event, featuring President Donald Trump, hosted by Students for Trump and Turning Point Action at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

But in comparison to the transphobic attacks brought by others on the CPAC stage, that panel was downright polite. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., claimed that the children’s toy Mr. Potato Head had been canceled—to conservatives’ alarm, the toy’s manufacturer had been considering dropping the “Mr.”—suggesting it was to appease transgender or nonbinary people. “Look out, Mr. Potato Head, you’re next. Excuse me, I think now he’s going by Mr. Potato X,” Gaetz said.

And when Trump took to the main stage to greet his fervent supporters and the party on which he still holds a firm grasp, the proverbial gloves were off—any debate within the GOP about the shrewdness of transphobic quips was settled.

“Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy women’s sports,” he claimed.

“Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are”—he paused for added effect—“biological males. It’s not good for women, it’s not good for women’s sports.

“The records that stood for years, even decades, are now being smashed with ease,” he continued. “Smashed. If this does not change, women’s sports as we know it will die. They’ll end. It’ll end.”

The conservative conference was indicative of the anti-trans rhetoric that abounds in right-wing circles—and an example of their fearmongering strategy. While attacks on trans people have been constant, with the election of a Democratic administration and the House’s passage of the Equality Act, the right-wing machine has mobilized against trans people and trans representation in the public square with new urgency—and has made women’s sports the focal point of its efforts.

Much like the bills from half a decade ago that raised false alarm over the use of public restrooms by trans women, right-wing lawmakers have taken up legislation in 31 states this year to prevent trans girls from competing in girls’ and women’s sports, capitalizing on Americans’ general ignorance of trans people, and padding the right’s patriarchal vision with the suggestion that women and children need to be protected.

The Message Is Fear

Four adolescent girls line up on the track, with their feet in starting blocks. The camera zooms in on one girl, long tendrils of hair hanging in front of her face. The girls launch out of the starting blocks and into a full sprint. “All female athletes want is a fair shot at competition, at a scholarship, at a title, at victory,” a female voice narrates. “But what if that shot was taken away by a competitor that claims to be a girl, but was born a boy?” And with that line, a boy sprints from behind, passes the girls, and races through the finish line, a smug look passing over his face. The ad ends with the girls glancing at the boy and back at each other, disappointed and defeated, but not before the narrator attacks President Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan for supporting the Equality Act, claiming that, if passed, the legislation would “destroy girls’ sports.”

The September 2020 digital ad, which was released in Michigan to target both Biden and Peters, who was up for reelection that year, was paid for by the American Principles Project, the political action committee helmed by Schilling that was founded in 2009 to support the religious right’s anti-gay agenda.

“It’s the next iteration in the attacks by social conservatives on trans people. For about a decade now, Republicans, specifically social conservatives, have been looking for a way to weaponize transphobia for elections,” writer and LGBTQ activist Charlotte Clymer told Right Wing Watch.

To experts and activists watching these attacks, the implications are clear—and the portrayal that fundamentally misunderstands who trans people are, purposeful.

“It’s a very tactical argument, right? It’s fearmongering, because what it does is it takes people’s wants to protect their daughters, and it says, ‘This will protect your daughter, here’s all the ways that we trans people are going to hurt your daughters,’” said Schuyler Bailar, an LGBTQ activist, swimmer, and the first trans athlete to compete for a Division I men’s team. “It’s a way to fearmonger people so that they think that trans people are actually just men trying to hurt their daughters.”

A screenshot of the transphobic digital ad released in Michigan during the 2020 election season by the American Principles Project.

The narrative is reminiscent of that used by right-wing groups pushing for the bathroom bills, which were successful for a while with “public conversations start[ing] from a place of fear,” said Arli Christian of the ACLU. “The narrative from the other side was not about trans women, and it never is. It’s about men in dresses, right? Because they don’t understand who trans women are,” she said. “So when we have a narrative that’s based on men joining women’s teams, no one is understanding the issue. When we have a narrative based on men entering women’s bathrooms, no one is understanding the issue.”

The obfuscation of the issue clears the path to make fungible the public restroom fears with that of trans girls and women in locker rooms with their cisgender teammates. During the bathroom-bill saga, social conservatives alleged that perverts and pedophiles would abuse women and children if transgender individuals were allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity. But by 2017, a majority of the American public opposed anti-trans bathroom bills, perhaps realizing that they had all used the restroom next to a trans person and lived to tell the tale—they just may have not known it. Such manufactured fears, however, persist—as does the narrative that kids can be “turned” transgender, (much like the gays-are-recruiting-your children scaremongering during the 1990s), especially if the nature of transgender people is misrepresented, Clymer said, as if kids could “catch” being trans, she added.

Added to those fears is one more acceptable to the broader public: that girls will be beaten by boys in sports and that girls’ athletics are under attack from this unknown transgender entity. It’s a smart strategy: Americans of all political stripes support notions of fairness.

For about a decade now, Republicans, specifically social conservatives, have been looking for a way to weaponize transphobia for elections.

Charlotte Clymer

After LGBTQ-rights groups raised alarm about the APP’s paid ad, it was rejected by Facebook, but the social media platform allowed organic postings of the ad, opting to add a fact-check label to it. The spot was also part of a larger $4 million campaign—$2 million spent in Michigan alone—by the APP to “target persuadable Democrats and independent voters in key swing states” ahead of the November elections. The group also ran two spots against gender-affirming health care for kids under 18.

The ad did not appear to have its desired effect on the election; both Biden and Peters won. But Schilling’s invitation to moderate a panel at CPAC—which has become something of a communications operation for the Trump political enterprise—indicates that the misleading anti-trans narrative is one deemed likely to excite the Trump base.

“It is clear, in the United States and in the U.K., that when you share misinformation and disinformation around children being threatened, people will react strongly to that,” said Heron Greenesmith, who monitors anti-LGBTQI rhetoric at Political Research Associates.

Growth of Anti-Trans Legislation since 2016

APP is just one of the many groups mobilizing against transgender rights in recent years. One of the Trump administration’s first moves, made at the behest of religious-right groups, was to rescind Obama-era guidelines to schools to accommodate transgender students. And today those religious-right groups are coordinating as much as ever, pushing the same narrative about trans kids in a push to raise money and galvanize support around conservative candidates, devising legislation, and picking court battles that they see beneficial to their agenda.

Religious-Right Powerhouse Takes Aim at State Legislatures

Of the more than 100 bills targeting trans people being considered in more than 30 state houses across the country this year, 60 of them aim to exclude trans youth in sports, according to the ACLU. Seven have become law in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi this year. (In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed the anti-trans bill that arrived on her desk but issued an executive order banning trans girls from competing on girls’ sports teams.)

Many of the bills have a common thread: Alliance Defending Freedom’s fingerprints are all over them. As RWW’s Peter Montgomery describes ADF, the legal organization has “a budget of more than $50 million and a ‘legal army’ of allied attorneys who give ADF an expanding footprint within the U.S. justice system, on the judiciary, and around the world. It has fought legal equality for LGBTQ people overseas as well as in the U.S. and promotes anti-transgender legislation and school board policies. It is a major driver of the religious right’s strategy to redefine religious liberty. Its lawyers have bragged about their strategic plan to overturn Roe v Wade and bring about a ban on abortion.”

Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Farris at U.S. Supreme Court, April 19, 2017.

The multimillion-dollar litigation-and-legislation shop helped Idaho state Rep. Barbara Ehardt draft a bill preventing trans girls and women from competing on women’s and girls’ sports teams, the lawmaker told The Idaho Press. The bill eventually was signed into law in 2020. Identical language from that legislation was found in bills proposed in LouisianaMississippiArkansasPennsylvaniaArizona, and Kansas, with many of the same sources and studies cited in each proposal. In many of these legislative efforts, student athletes who are accused of being trans would be forced to submit to an internal and external examination of their reproductive organs—cruelly intrusive and potentially traumatizing requirements that offer no proof of a person’s true gender.

Language from the Idaho state law, which is currently being challenged by the ACLU, states it clearly:

If disputed, a student may establish sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement that shall indicate the student’s sex based solely on: (a) The student’s internal and external reproductive anatomy; (b) The student’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone; (c) An analysis of the student’s genetic makeup.

Some states have eliminated such language from their proposed legislation, opting to replace it with more vague language that conveys the same principles, but bills in Maine and Arizona have retained similar language.

Headed by the homeschooling guru Michael Farris, ADF has vehemently fought against LGBTQ rights for decades, even supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and abroad, and defending the forced sterilization of trans people abroad, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has designated ADF a hate group. A giant in the religious-right legal world, ADF also portrays LGBTQ people as more likely than others to engage to pedophilia, a tactic it shares with other religious-right groups such as the Family Research Council.

Seemingly in an effort to bolster its case, in February 2020 ADF filed a federal lawsuit against the Connecticut Association of Schools. At the heart of the challenge: whether two Black trans girls should be allowed to compete on girls’ teams as the Connecticut Association of Schools trans-inclusive policy allows. (The lawsuit followed a June 2019 federal Title IX complaint filed by ADF.)

In the lawsuit, ADF repeatedly misgendered the two trans girls, calling them “boys,” and claimed that the plaintiffs, three cisgender girls, were at an unfair disadvantage in competing in track events against them.

“This discriminatory policy is now regularly resulting in boys displacing girls in competitive track events in Connecticut—excluding specific and identifiable girls including Plaintiffs from honors, opportunities to compete at higher levels, and public recognition critical to college recruiting and scholarship opportunities that should go to those outstanding female athletes,” the lawsuit alleged.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit filed against the Connecticut Association of Schools. At the heart of the challenge: whether Andraya Yearwood (pictured here) and Terry Miller should be allowed to compete on girls’ teams as the Connecticut Association of Schools trans-inclusive policy allows. (Photo credit: ACLU Joshua Roper)


The three plaintiffs, high schoolers represented by their mothers, claim to have been bested in races by “biological males.” But within days of the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs outran one of those trans girls twice, reported Karleigh Webb, a contributor to Outsports. And competing against trans athletes also did not stop that same plaintiff from reportedly receiving an athletic scholarship to an NCAA D1 college. (What’s more, right-wing activists have had a hard time identifying cases of trans athletes of any gender receiving athletic scholarships.)

In April, a federal district judge dismissed ADF’s lawsuit on procedural grounds, but the case and the attention paid to it continues to give the religious-right group fodder for more legislative action.

The AP reported that among two dozen legislators who have sponsored such bills, only a handful could even point to cases in their own state where trans girls’ sports participation had caused problems. Most of these groups and lawmakers, failing to come up with an example from their own state, pointed to the Connecticut case pushed by ADF.

“In many hearings, we’re hearing from legislators who have never really cared about Title IX before and never really fought to support women’s sports, girls’ teams, the needs of women and girls sports before, and now all of a sudden, they’re fixated,” Christian of the ACLU told Right Wing Watch.

Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with ADF representing the three cisgender Connecticut students, attends Florida Gov. DeSantis’ signing of legislation banning trans girls from competing on girls’ sports teams.

In addition to the efforts of ADF, the longstanding right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank has also had its legislative and legal experts hammering out drafts of anti-trans policy and messaging guidance.

“There are state legislators across the country who have kind of glommed onto pushing these bills forward. But it is a coordinated attack. The language from these bills, and the concepts behind them, don’t really come from the legislators themselves; they are coming from organizations who have done anti-LGBTQ work for years,” Christian said. “And so often the legislators are mere pawns in that process, they are fed these bills and this language without knowing much about the issue.”

The Anti-Trans Coalition

In February, shortly before CPAC, a coalition calling itself Promise to America’s Children was launched. Comprising right-wing and religious-right organizations, it was formed in opposition to the Equality Act and what its leaders call “gender ideology.” While purportedly a “coalition passionate about protecting children,” something else has been center-stage in its formation: attacks on trans kids.

The coalition was announced in a February column in the right-wing publication The Daily Caller, authored by Emily Kao and Jared Eckert of the Heritage Foundation, a deeply right-wing institution that veered into hard-right territory during the Trump administration. The column targeted Biden’s executive order, signed on his first day, to combat discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care, housing, and education—and the authors made sure to include a mention of sports. “Such policies allow students to participate in single-sex sports and use single-sex facilities that don’t match their biological sex, such as bathrooms and locker rooms,” they wrote.

The column also zeroed in on the Equality Act, claiming it “will turn disagreements over biological sex and marriage into legal ‘discrimination.’” The argument is a familiar one—arguing that doctors, schools, and businesses who do not want to serve or recognize transgender people should not have to because it would infringe on their “religious liberties.”

A photo from the 2013 pride march in Baltimore, Maryland. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

The coalition is just a formalization of these groups’ previous anti-LGBTQ work; officially uniting organizations like ADF and Heritage already at work providing drafts of legislation and the rhetorical framework for mounting attacks on transgender children.

Unsurprisingly, the groups behind the coalition are the same groups that have fought “gender ideology” and gay rights tooth and nail for decades, alternating between claims that their religious liberty is at stake and bigoted arguments smearing gay people. The leading national partners are three of the biggest leaders in the religious-right movement: Heritage Foundation, Family Policy Alliance, and ADF. The rest of the list reads as a who’s who of the movement, including American Principles Project, Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, and Family Watch International. The American College of Pediatricians, a misleadingly named small anti-LGBTQ fringe advocacy group, is also a member.

In Kao and Eckert’s words, the coalition will “unite concerned citizens and lawmakers in protecting children’s minds and bodies, and relationships with their parents.” Here’s what that looks like. The coalition pushes two parts: It calls on lawmakers and parents to sign a pledge, and it offers lawmakers model legislation.

The pledge lays out the coalition’s goals and messaging, suggesting that children are in danger in a few key spaces—schools, bathrooms and locker rooms, women sports, and health care—and that government policies that support transgender people are to blame. In a 10-point pledge, two are dedicated to girls’ sports and locker rooms and one focuses on trans kids’ access to health care:

5. Every child deserves safety and privacy in sex-specific spaces such as locker rooms, showers, and restrooms at schools and other federally-funded public facilities.

6. Every child deserves the opportunity to participate in fair and safe athletic competitions. Female athletes should not be forced to compete against biological males who identify as female in sports competitions intended for females.

7. Every child deserves the opportunity to be affirmed and in their biological sex, and to be supported as they mature through puberty and other normal adolescent changes that shape their maturity and reproductive capacity. Elective physical interventions on the bodies of children (including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sterilizing surgeries) have not been proven safe or effective for physically healthy minors.

The pledge highlights how these groups operate in opposition not just to trans athletes, but to their ability to operate in the public space—to use restrooms for example—and to erase recognition of their existence—in barring access to gender-affirming health care. It also shows how sports falls into the equation: as a means to an end.

This last point peddles disinformation: Major medical organizations, including American Academy of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, and American Medical Association, support gender-affirming medical treatment, which does not include surgery or hormones for any pre-pubescent trans child. And puberty blockers, which are widely used for children who are not trans as well, are widely considered safe and reversible. “There is no pre-pubescent trans child who gets surgery, or hormones for that matter,” Charlotte Clymer says. “They [puberty blockers] are a reversible medical treatment that gives trans children and their parents time to figure things out and make a plan if they do want to medically transition. And once they stop taking puberty blockers, adolescence proceeds as normal. Now, social conservatives have tried to claim that this is, you know, destroying children’s bodies or hurting them. But in fact, it’s a medically validated treatment from the AMA [to] the American College of Pediatrics [to] the American Psychological Association. Every major medical organization supports this treatment.”

Already, more than 30 state lawmakers have signed the pledge.

The underlying message is one LGBTQ activists worry about. The bills being pushed in state houses across the country “signal to our youth that you are not OK being who you are,” the ACLU’s Christian said. “The effects are horrifying even for trans kids in states that are not contemplating these laws or trans kids in those states who don’t play sports. It’s just devastating to know that a law is aimed at you and your exclusion.”

“I want people to know that this is a harsh steppingstone, and we are moving forward. And we have to keep moving forward,” Schuyler Bailar tells Right Wing Watch. (Sydney Claire Photography @sydneyclairephotography)

The American Academy of Pediatrics, a legitimate professional association of children’s physicians representing some 67,000 pediatricians, has indicated its concern that the legislation targeting trans youth will harm kids who are already at a high risk of suicide.

In the face of these legislative attacks, the Biden administration revised Trump-era Title IX policies on June 16, stating that the rights of transgender and gay students are protected at school by Title IX.

Since competing on a NCAA Division I men’s team—the first trans athlete to do so—Schuyler Bailar has traveled around the country making speeches, advocating for kids who, as he did, struggle with how to couple their gender identity with their desire to play their sport. The current attacks, he says, are exhausting, but he has hope.

“There’s sort of a really harsh silver lining, in some ways,” he said, “because the reason that we’re seeing [these legislative attacks against trans people] is because people know we exist; we are here. I want people to know that this is a harsh steppingstone, and we are moving forward. And we have to keep moving forward.”