Trans teen sues Tennessee over discriminatory anti-trans sports bill that’s keeping him on sidelines

Trans teen sues Tennessee over discriminatory anti-trans sports bill that’s keeping him on sidelines

As Daily Kos has continued to cover, Republicans have been more than happy to jump into anti-trans hate as a way to distract people from their failures in office. While some state-level legislation has died in committee, some has made its way through both the statehouse and senate and made it all the way to the governor—and some, sadly, has even been signed into law by Republicans. One example comes to us from Tennessee, where Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a discriminatory anti-trans sports bill into law in March 2021, which is also when it went into effect. With the help of Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), however, one brave openly trans teen is suing for his right to play sports with the team that matches his gender identity, as reported by NBC News.

In a news release, 14-year-old Luc Esquivel, a trans boy who wanted to try out for the boys’ golf team at Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, said he was “crushed” by the legislation. “I just want to play,” the high school freshman added. “Like any other kid.”

As some context, most people pushing these anti-trans bills are hyper-focused on the idea of trans girls participating on girls’ sports teams, arguing that it could be unfair to cisgender girls when it comes to competitions and even scholarships. (It’s not.) Some bills do use language that refers only to trans girls (which is still hateful, discriminatory, and wrong) but most use broad language that includes both trans girls and trans boys (and arguably non-binary trans youth, too), which is the case for public middle and high schools in Tennessee. So while legislators waxed faux hysteria about trans girls, trans boys like Luc are also being discriminated against, though their situation has gotten far less national media attention.

Luc, unlike so many trans kids and teens, has the support of his mother, Shelley Esquivel. In a press release, Luc’s mother described it as “heartbreaking” to see him miss out on the chance to play sports with his peers, a normal and fun high school activity. “It’s painful for a parent to see their child subjected to discrimination because of who they are,” she added.”

The goal of the lawsuit, which was filed by Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the ACLU, is to get the federal court to intervene. The suit argues that the law is fundamentally discriminatory and unconstitutional. A similarly transphobic sports bill in Idaho has been temporarily blocked using the same method, and is waiting for a decision by a U.S. appeals court. Temporarily blocking the law at least gives trans youth back some dignity and opportunities to participate in sports with their peers for the time being.

Executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, Hedy Weinberg, said the emotional cost of this law is “tremendous” when it comes to harming trans student-athletes. “We stand with trans students across the state as we challenge this law, and we urge other trans student-athletes and their families facing such discrimination to contact us,” she said in a statement. 

“For trans kids, who often experience alienation and stigmatization, participating on teams with their peers is especially important,” explained Sara Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “Luc just wants to play golf with other boys, to be part of the team, and to improve his game. Like all kids, he just wants to play.”

“To have the legislature pass a law that singled out me and kids like me to keep us from being part of a team, that crushed me, it hurt very much,” Luc stated. 

Disturbingly, anti-trans legislation is booming across the nation, and Republicans are quick to use whatever angle they can to fire up outrage against a vulnerable, marginalized population. In Tennessee alone, Gov. Lee has signed multiple transphobic bills into law in addition to this sports bill. For example, Lee signed a bill into law that requires restaurants and businesses to post what the HRC calls “offensive and humiliating signage” alerting customers that trans folks are able to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, as well as a bill that bars trans youth from accessing gender-affirming medical treatment. 

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