As a potential ban on trans girls competing in women’s high school athletics works its way through the Missouri legislature, parents of trans children are speaking out about the transphobic bill — and expressing their fear about what’s yet to come in their state.
SB 781, which would establish a “Save Women’s Sports Act” barring “students of the male sex as assigned at birth” from competing in leagues established for girls, represents the third time such a ban has been proposed in as many years. On Wednesday, it was placed on the Senate’s informal calendar for “perfection,” during which amendments will be proposed and debated by the full Senate before moving towards a final vote.
“This bill seeks to codify into law discrimination against trans youth,” said Picker Neiss, advocate and parent of an 11-year-old trans son, in an interview with NPR affiliate St. Louis Public Radio aired Wednesday. “It’s being pitched as if this is something that we should be scared of, that our children are scary. And that in and of itself is hugely problematic at a time when we’re already seeing the trans community being attacked and marginalized and facing violence simply for who they are.”
Like many other trans youth, Neiss’s son has spent three of his four years since coming out lobbying the state government to stop trying to discriminate against him, testifying before legislative committees so often that Neiss says people in the Capitol recognize him on sight. And while it’s gratifying to see her son become an advocate for trans rights, Neiss says, “it’s also incredibly sad […] he should be in school playing with his friends. This isn’t what he should be worrying about.”
As the Republican party continues to spread the falsehood that trans people are “groomers” inflicting sexual ideas on impressionable youth, some parents are now choosing to leave their kids at home for their own protection instead of letting them testify. “She really wanted to go testify as well. But we told her, ‘You’re not old enough to hear all the things that are being said about you,” Harris Dault, a parent of a recently-out trans daughter, explained to STLPR.
Brandon Boulware, an attorney in Kansas City, says he tried to protect his trans daughter, too — by forcing her to get short haircuts and play on boys’ sports teams. But after realizing he was teaching his child to “pretend to be someone she was not,” he told the Missouri General Assembly last year, Boulware let his daughter be herself — and the positive change was immediate. She now has friends from her girls’ volleyball team. “As a parent, the one thing we cannot do […] is silence our child’s spirit,” Boulware exhorted the committee, reminding them that a trans sports ban would have “real effects” on trans children across the state.
In January, a report from The Trevor Project found that 85% of trans and nonbinary youth said their mental health was worsened due to anti-trans bills in their state. That’s the case for their parents, too. “[P]robably for the last month, at least one of us has been in tears every day,” as we think about what these bills could mean for us and our family,” Dault told STLPR.
What remains to be seen is whether Missouri Republicans will willfully continue to inflict this harm on trans youth and their families in the name of social control — or if, finally, legislators will listen to reason and stop targeting literal children for state-sponsored discrimination.
Get the best of what’s queer. Sign up for Them’s weekly newsletter here.