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Trump promises to ban transgender women from sports if re-elected

The former president also specifically targeted Lia Thomas, a trans University of Pennsylvania swimmer.
Former President Donald Trump departs after speaking at a rally on Jan. 15, 2022, in Florence, Ariz.
Former President Donald Trump departs after speaking at a rally on Jan. 15 in Florence, Ariz.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Former President Donald Trump said he would ban transgender women from participating in women’s sports nationwide if he were re-elected president.

“We will ban men from participating in women’s sports,” Trump said during a rally in Conroe, Texas, on Saturday. “So ridiculous.”

He then criticized Lia Thomas, the trans University of Pennsylvania swimmer who sparked international debate last month after she broke multiple records at a meet in Ohio. Trump misgendered Thomas, referring to her by the wrong pronouns, and then falsely stated that Thomas broke an 11-year-old swimming record by 38 seconds.

In reality, Thomas won the 1,650-yard freestyle at the Zippy Invitational in Ohio by 38 seconds, but she didn't set a record in that event. She broke school and Ivy League records in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle by smaller margins of a couple of seconds. Outsports reported that the distance by which Thomas won the race is the longest in the NCAA, but the race takes more than 15 minutes for women to complete.

Trump also claimed that a trans woman, whom he didn’t name, broke a 20-year record in weightlifting. It is unclear if this claim is true.

Trump’s language mirrored that of conservative officials in many states over the last few years. Last year, more than 30 states considered bills that would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Ten states have enacted such measures. So far this year, 17 states are considering similar bills. 

Trump has previously denounced trans-inclusive sports teams. ​​In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, last year, Trump called trans female athletes “biological males,” using a term most trans people find offensive. 

“Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males,” Trump said. “It’s not good for women. It’s not good for women’s sports, which worked for so long and so hard to get to where they are.”

He later added, “If this does not change, women’s sports as we know it will die.”

Advocates say conservatives are using trans athletes as a wedge issue or as “red meat” to drive voters to the polls. However, they say that in reality, trans women don’t pose a threat to women’s sports. For example, last year, only a few lawmakers in two dozen states considering trans athlete bans who were contacted by The Associated Press could provide examples of trans inclusion causing a problem on sports teams.

But Thomas’ critics say her success proves that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete on women’s sports teams, or at least the rules governing their participation need to be stricter to mitigate any competitive advantage they may have due to the effects of testosterone from endogenous puberty.

Though some advocates believe the intention behind anti-trans bills is to turn out voters, it’s unclear whether the bills will actually have that effect. According to a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll released last year, two-thirds of Americans are against laws that would limit transgender rights. 

But when support for specific inclusive policies is broken down, trans inclusion on sports teams is less popular. A majority of Americans, 62 percent, said trans athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that correspond with their gender assigned at birth, while 34 percent said they should be able to play on teams that match their gender identity, according to a Gallup poll released last year.

Shortly after the poll was published, Mara Keisling, then the executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, speculated that Americans were reacting to the “barrage” of anti-trans bills being considered in state legislatures and predicted that as more people learn about trans people or meet someone who is trans, public opinion will change. 

The Gallup data suggested that might be true: It found that people who know someone who is trans were more likely to say trans athletes should be able to play on a team matching their gender identity, with 40 percent in favor, than people who do not know someone who is transgender, with 31 percent in favor. 

“If you look at the younger folks in terms of who knows a trans person, it’s really obvious here that we’re winning,” Keisling said at the time, pointing to the fact that half of people younger than 30 know someone who is trans, according to Gallup. By comparison, only 19 percent of the oldest age group, people 65 and older, know a trans person.

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