Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hope and concern in West Virginia ruling

 I attended a rally/vigil last week focused on LGBTQ+ visibility and one of the brilliant speakers spoke to the difficulty of maintaining/having hope among those who embody those identities, (and those who are allied with them). The idea that "surely things cannot get worse" she said, has been replaced with a resignation that when something worse happens, we know it will not be the last of the worst things or the worst of what is to come. 

The tragic death of teenager Nex Benedict, whom we remembered at that vigil, will not be the last ever, the last this year, nor the last this spring. Queer children are in such a vulnerable position all over the country. And those with additional minoritized identities, like Nex who was Indigenous, are extremely vulnerable when they do not have the privileges that comes with whiteness, or middle-class standing, or normative ability (physical and/or neurological). 

So I am wary to ascribe the word "hope" to the recent overturning, by a federal appeals court,  of West Virginia's law banning trans girls and women from school-sponsored sports. It is certainly good news amidst the bad (the longer list of states that continue to be allowed to engage in discrimination, the NAIA's recent banning of transwomen from intercollegiate sports at its member schools, and Ohio's impending ban). 

In addition to the almost certain appeal of the ruling is the fact that the child at the center of the case is someone who could be characterized as a near-ideal plaintiff. She is a young teen who has been public about her identity since the age of 8. She has a birth certificate that states she is female. She is on puberty blockers and estrogen. Being an athlete seems to be a key part of her personhood and she has been playing on girls' teams since her social transition. She is feminine, blond, and white. 

But my hope that this is a turning point, or at least a sign of better things to come, quickly dissipates when I admit to myself that if almost any single one of the factors above was different, this case could have had a different outcome. What if the plaintiff was not engaged in medical transition (remember some states have now banned that), what if she had only recently socially transitioned or never before played on a girls' team? What if she was a Black girl? (A look at the responses to former Connecticut high school track star Andraya Yearwood demonstrates how racism constructs beliefs about gender and femininity in ways that demonize and do violence to Black trans girls and women.) 

To be clear: I am very happy the decision went in the plaintiff's favor and that she will be able to continue to participate on the girls' track team. I hope it makes space for those who might not be the "ideal" because of how they present or how they are choosing to embody their identities. 

But, right now, that is about all the hope I can muster.