Legislative efforts in many states to preserve opportunities for girls and young women to compete on their own teams have been timely and important. But they've also missed a key point.
The transgender movement is about more than winning championships in girls' sports: it's about invading their privacy.
Four states – Kansas, Tennessee, Nebraska and Oklahoma – have passed laws protecting public "spaces" for women. The laws protect women's privacy in places like school restrooms, locker rooms, prisons, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. In essence, they deliver the message that if the door says "women," it should mean something.
LGBTQ rights groups called the Kansas law – which passed with an 84-40 vote to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto – "one of the most sweeping" in the country.
Former collegiate athletes Riley Gaines and Paula Scanlan hope to see other states take action. They spoke in Tupelo, Miss., with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves this week. Reeves is seeking reelection and says he'll make legislation on "women's spaces" a priority in a second term. Mississippi is one of 23 states that have already passed laws banning biological males from girls' and women's sports teams.
Gaines and Scanlan, both former college swimmers, were impacted by the University of Pennsylvania's decision to allow biological male swimmer William Thomas (right) to compete with the women's team. Gaines lost a trophy when she and Thomas tied in the 200-meters at the NCAA meet in 2022, while Scanlan, a Penn swimmer, lost her privacy every time Thomas undressed in the women's locker room.
"It's amazing that sports are protected in 23 states, but what isn't protected in most states are women's spaces. In my experience, I witnessed the unfairness of competition – but I also had to undress next to a male 18 times every single week because my university allowed this," Scanlan said on Tuesday.
One of Scanlan's teammates, who had the misfortune of having Thomas' locker placed next to hers, chose to leave the locker room to dress each day, Scanlan emphasized.
According to Gaines, so much more than trophies are being lost. She told the story of Payton McNabb, a high school volleyball player in North Carolina, who was hit in the face by the powerful spike of a biological male on an opposing team. She lost consciousness and hit the floor.
The injury occurred in the fall of 2022 and promptly ended McNabb's volleyball career. This spring she told the North Carolina legislature that she continues to suffer from a concussion, neck injury, impaired vision and partial paralysis on her right side. She still has headaches, anxiety and depression. Her ability to comprehend and retain information was also impaired, and McNabb required special accommodations for school testing after being hit in the face.
"I've never seen a woman spike a ball that hard, and I went to Kentucky where we had a national championship volleyball team. It just ricocheted off her [McNabb's] face. Immediately she was knocked unconscious," Gaines shared.
Biological men in prison cells with women
The discussion surrounding "spaces" transcends sports. Biological men, many of them violent, are placed in women's prisons with unfortunate and predictable results.
"They're having to post placards in women's prisons talking about pregnancy prevention," Gaines revealed. "We have men [in there] who are convicted of heinous sexual crimes because the only prerequisite to get into a women's prison is to say, 'I am a woman.'"
Investigative journalist James O'Keefe in April posted interviews with inmates at the (state of) Washington Corrections Center for Women in which the female inmates tell of "rapists, murders, child rapists and men who have killed women in our rooms" all in the name of inclusivity.
In New Jersey, women's groups in the spring descended upon the state capitol demanding that biological men be removed from an all-female prison. Two activists, armed with letters from inmates at the prison, read a testimony from Kokila Hiatt, according to The New York Post.
"When the males arrive, they cease hormone injections and continue living their lives as men," Hiatt wrote.
While America grapples with the problem of biological men in women's prisons, Great Britian has seen enough. England and Wales have enacted a ban on men in women's prisons in an effort to "improve safety" for prisoners, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC. Only in the most "exceptional cases" will exemptions be made.
Protection provided by shelters at risk as well
Women face potential danger at homeless shelters in the U.S. too. Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden withdrew a proposal by his predecessor, Donald Trump, that would have allowed federally funded women's shelters to exclude males.
"Women who have just left abusive relationships flee to these spaces," Gaines pointed out. "There have been several instances where the abuser finds out they went to a domestic violence shelter, and they follow them there. These shelters are scared to take a stand because they don't want to lose federal funding."
A key component of any legislation is the definition of woman, Gaines argued. "When something says it's 'for women' it means an adult human female who has the ability to produce ovum. This is the definition that will protect those spaces," she said.
Proactive approach in conservative states is necessary
In conservative Mississippi, Gov. Reeves' aggressive pushback against pet projects of transgender proponents has faced criticism from Democrats who say he has found a solution in search of a problem.
"Their biggest argument," said the governor, "is going to be, 'Well, this is not necessary. This is not needed. There's no reason we should do this in the state of Mississippi.'"
But they're wrong, says Reeves, who argues that a proactive approach is a must.
"… Earlier this year, because of the good work of our conservatives in the Mississippi legislature, I was able to sign legislation which makes it illegal in Mississippi to perform sex changes on minors," Reeves said. "The legislature in Louisiana passed the same bill; the Democratic governor vetoed it. The legislature in Kentucky passed the same bill; the Democratic governor vetoed it."
According to Reeves, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear argued in his veto message that "this isn't happening here" and "there's no reason to make it illegal." But Beshear was wrong.
"[As] it turns out, at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, there are records of [gender-manipulation procedures] happening there," Reeves noted.
"We can't just listen to what they say," the governor continued. "We have to go in and be proactive in our stance to stand up for what we believe in. It's critically important as we deal with what are obviously very complicated issues."
Separation of sexes, in fact, is unifying
Gaines, from Tennessee, and Scanlan, from Connecticut, are convinced that protecting women's spaces is an issue that unites a politically divided country.
"I don't know if Connecticut has ever voted red. I think one of my biggest fears of speaking out was 'What is my community going to think of me, what are my parents and friends going to think of me?'" Scanlan said. "[But] I think everyone is supportive of the fact that men cannot become women. I think that's common sense at this point – but to say it out loud, that really takes that stance and turns it into something political when it shouldn't be."
The Tennessee native echoed Scanlan's remarks.
"This is a unifying issue [that] reaches across party lines," Gaines said. "There are so many mothers, so many fathers [who] hear what young girls like us went through in that locker room … a violating experience, a really traumatic experience.
"[Then] they put their own daughters in that same scenario and they don't agree with [what's happening]. They know it's wrong."