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Destie Hohman Sprague is the executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.
For 43 years, the Maine Women’s Lobby has advocated for the health, safety, economic security and civil rights of women and girls in Maine. We believe that women should live with dignity, security and justice. That is why the rise in transgender-hostile legislation in Maine — so often using the safety and comfort of women and girls as cover — is so concerning.
Women are still at far greater risk of experiencing sexual violence or intimate partner violence than men. They are still more likely to be paid less than male counterparts — especially Black and brown women. They are dramatically more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
None of these issues are caused by transgender people, and they won’t be solved by excluding trangender people from sports, shelters, or other community settings. In fact, trans people of all gender identities experience these same harms, such as increased incidences of violence and decreased economic security. Blaming marginalized populations for these outcomes makes no one safer.
Two pending bills (LD 926 and LD 1401) seeking to exclude transgender girls and young women from sports are examples of the disconnect between such bills’ aims and the challenges girls and women actually face. There are a number of recent high-profile cases of girls experiencing harassment and abuse in sporting events — most appallingly the case of Dr. Larry Nassar, who systematically abused athletes on the women’s Olympic gymnastics team for decades. Additionally, we see how women’s collegiate and professional teams are devalued and undercompensated. The U.S. women’s soccer team has won four Olympic gold medals, three World Cups, and is ranked No. 1 in the world, yet they are paid just over one-third of what the men’s team (with no recent medals or cups) receives.
On the other hand, there are very few transgender women in competitive collegiate sports ( about 50 out of 200,000 athletes), and there is no evidence that they dominate their events.
These bills would also ban transgender girls from participating on elementary and high school teams with their peers, denying them opportunities to develop leadership, discipline and self-confidence. Women and girls are not protected by excluding transgender women and girls: they are all protected instead by creating environments free of abuse, supporting and compensating them fairly, and promoting their successes equally.
This legislative push is so disappointing because it’s not about solving a local problem, or addressing harm that real Mainers are experiencing. It’s part of a national trend to promote trans-hostile legislation as a wedge issue. This year, there are at least three trans-hostile bills proposed in Maine, and more than 100 nationwide.
While we debate bills without a real connection to what Mainers are experiencing, the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey tells us that girls in our communities are more likely to experience sexual harassment and violence and to have serious mental health needs, while transgender youth are almost twice as likely to consider suicide than their peers. Young people of every gender identity need to hear from adults that they are valued, and to receive health and mental health care as well as the racial, gender, and economic justice that they deserve. We need to focus our energy on supporting youth, not creating false divisions and distractions.
The Maine Women’s Lobby will be opposing trans-hostile legislation for as long as it is presented, and continue to advocate for real justice for all women, girls,and gender expansive people who experience sexism and misogyny in their daily lives.