Emerging as a force to be reckoned with against gender identity discrimination, Layshia Clarendon, the WNBA’s first openly trans and non-binary player, is “at the forefront of the league’s groundbreaking social justice efforts and is tasked with engaging community conversations, advocacy and education on important topics surrounding social justice.” For all of their grassroots efforts in challenging policy and culture around gender in sports, Clarendon has been nominated for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. Yet, in the same breath that we celebrate the joy of gender euphoria for countless people challenging the gender binary, we must band together and fight the intentional harms caused to our transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming siblings.
There is no federal law that classifies transgender people as a protected class, requiring protections from very real discrimination and the dangers it provokes. We are left to our own resources to maneuver discriminatory practices that jeopardize physical and emotional safety and overall quality of life of transgender Americans. Transgender and non-binary people often struggle to get their basic needs like housing, public accommodations and employment met due to a particularly cruel amalgam of discrimination and negligence from all levels of public policy.
With necessities being systematically withheld from people based on gender identity, we can infer that similar dynamics take place in favorite pastimes like sports, affecting people of all ages. For example, Clarendon’s Sports Illustrated cover story about their gender identity in the WNBA argues that being asked to “compartmentalize their gender and their job was impossible.” Further, the piece features a moving argument from Quinn, a non-binary Canadian soccer player who plays in the National Women’s Soccer League, that “People—maybe especially nonbinary people—play sports because we love connecting with our bodies.”
Within a binary system that arbitrarily centers testosterone as a divisive deciding factor between two leagues, women’s and men’s, transgender and non-binary athletes are witnessing the opportunity to benefit from competitive sports stripped away.
Just this year, 27 states have proposed policies that “would ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports that match their gender identity.” Of those states submitting anti-transgender policies, none are in states housing WNBA teams, but it is imperative to note that banning these athletes is not necessarily the worst outcome. If these bills are passed, students would be forced, by law, to produce medical proof of their biology through invasive practices like genital exams and testosterone testing.
In short, we are at a time where federal and state legislation has waged war against transgender and non-binary Americans.
Considering that the WNBA is the first professional league to have a PRIDE platform and continues to lead productive and genuine allyship efforts in the sports world, it begs examination of just how progressive the cities that house the league’s teams actually are. More specifically, what can we expect from policies that address athletes that exist outside of the binary in sports?
We found that while the extent of transgender legislative protections varies from state to state, none of the states that call one of the 12 WNBA teams home have laws that ban transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
While the state of Georgia has not passed any explicit legislation protecting any members of the LGBTQ+ communities, many cities like Decatur, Savannah and Atlanta have passed some non-discrimination protections for their LGBTQ+ residents.
In 2006, Illinois updated its Human Rights Act to specifically provide sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
Connecticut updated its list of non-discrimination protections in 2011 to include gender identity.
Texas does not have any statewide protections for LGBTQ+ residents; however, a handful of municipalities like Gavelston and San Antonio are against housing discrimination.
Freedom For All Americans provides that Indiana does not offer any statewide assurances for the safety or protection of members of the LGBTQ+ community, noting that the latest nondiscrimination policy to pass in 2017 only protects this population from employment discrimination based on sexuality alone.
Las Vegas Aces
In 2011, Nevada expanded its protections against housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination to include gender identity as well as sexual orientation.
Los Angeles Sparks
California has continued to strengthen its initial 1992 housing and employment non-discrimination policies, specifically adding gender identity to its list of protections in 2011.
Since 1993, Minnesota updated its Human Rights Act to protect LQBTQ+ individuals from housing, employment and public accommodations discrimination.
New York Liberty
Freedom For All Americans clearly states, “Non-discrimination laws in New York provide explicit, comprehensive protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – in employment, housing, and public accommodations.” In 2019, New York became the 20th state to offer explicit protections for gender identity.
Despite some grassroots community efforts, Arizona provides no statewide protections against discrimination for people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Washington has provided legislation to protect sexual orientation and gender identity from housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination since 2006.
In 2006, non-discrimination protections were expanded from sexual orientation to include gender identity in the District of Columbia.