HIGHLAND PARK, IL — Late last week, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against a Tennessee law that restricts transgender students’ playing organized sports.
Transgender rights advocates argue that these laws are discriminatory and rob children of the benefits of social connections, persistence and physical and mental well-being. Through a national education campaign launched this week, transgender and non-binary student-athletes are speaking out.
From an early age, 17-year-old Sivan loved playing sports.
“I played basketball and football during recess and Little League Baseball and soccer,” said Sivan
But in 7th grade, the Massachusetts teen felt it was time to transition.
“I said, ‘Hey, mom. Hey, dad, I know you know me as a female, but that's actually not right. I'm a boy.’”
He was nervous that he’d be made fun of; that people wouldn't accept him and what this could mean for his athletics.
“I definitely worried about it,” the teen said. “I knew I wanted to make the switch from the girls' team to the boys' team because that was where I belonged.”
Already, 10 states have passed laws limiting trans youth from school sports. Another 21 states have considered similar bills this year.
“What these bills do is they basically allow people's gender to be questioned, and that's happened to me and that's violating and embarrassing,” said Rebekah.
The 14-year-old New Jersey 9th-grader and transgender youth activist has been playing field hockey since fourth grade. She’s now on her school’s freshman team.
“When it comes down to it, she's just a player on the field like any other girl out there,” said her mother, Jamie.
Along with other transgender and non-binary student-athletes and their parents, Rebekah and Sivan are trying to educate others about the issue.
“We want to let our kids live their lives and figure it out on their own. And when they do, they're all stronger for it,” said Alisa, Sivan’s mother. “My kid who's trans, your kid is not trans, they're all going to figure it out and live a better life and build a better world because of it.”
The ‘Play it Out’ campaign launched this week promotes the idea that all children, including transgender and non-binary kids, should have equal access to organized sports and athletics.
“These lawmakers are only thinking about the threat that trans kids are,” said Rebekah. “But we're not. We're just happy, smiling young people trying to be ourselves and play sports and have fun while doing it.”
“Rebekah's awesome. And she works really hard, and she's a fantastic defensive player, but she's not the star of the team. She's not out there crushing people. She is working so hard to keep up and to contribute positively,” said Rebekah's mother.
Through the ‘Play it Out’ campaign, these young activists are fighting for a chance to step out on the field and be their authentic selves.
Sivan advice to young transgender athletes is to persevere.
“Don't give up because there's these adults saying that you can’t and trying to make these rules that you can’t. And if you love it, don't give up on it.”