America is currently undergoing a mental health crisis. According to the nonprofit organization Mental Health America, 9.7% of youth across America have severe depression, while a survey of 1.5 million Americans found that roughly 80% show symptoms of severe to moderate depression. With this in mind, it is bizarre that the North Dakota Senate is considering a piece of legislation that will have a detrimental impact on the mental health of an especially at-risk group.
House Bill 1298, which passed in the North Dakota House of Representatives on Feb. 11, is designed to prevent transgender athletes from joining sports teams that match their gender identity. This bill is unnecessary and has the potential for serious ramifications in a community that is already far more likely to suffer from depression and to be at risk of suicide than the rest of society.
One frustrating aspect about the bill is that it seems to suggest that there is a significant number of trans women who identify as trans solely to gain some advantage in sports, given that if this wasn’t the case there would hardly be the need for such stringent regulation. This is, of course, untrue; one’s gender identity is a significant aspect of their personal identity and not a spur-of-the-moment decision made to gain an advantage in sports.
Also, to claim that trans athletes have it easy ignores that trans students frequently suffer disproportionate levels of harassment in schools; according to an article by the American Civil Liberties Union, 22% of trans students have been harassed so badly that they had to leave their school.
Additionally, the idea that trans women have an automatic athletic advantage over cisgender women is incorrect. A large 2016 study by medical researchers from the UK concluded that there is currently no research available that suggests that transgender female individuals have an inherent advantage in athletics. According to Dr. Joshua D. Safer, a Harvard med school fellow and Medical Director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Boston Medical Center, “A person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance and have not been used in elite competition for decades”.
I’ve played sports throughout my time in high school, and have witnessed firsthand what a helpful and unifying environment they can provide. It seems incredibly harsh to deny this experience to a group of people based on stereotyping, misinformation, and poorly researched science, especially at a time when a large number of people are struggling with their mental health.
Max Pritchard lives in Fargo.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.