In the 1990s, Mainers were warned that protecting people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation would create new “special rights” that would clog the courts and crush small businesses.

When that didn’t happen, we were told that allowing men to marry other men and women to marry other women would end the institution of marriage as we knew it and force public schools to teach children about homosexuality.

Now, nine years after Maine voters extended civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, and we are still waiting for the catastrophe, anti-LGBT activists have moved on to a new cause and new scare tactics.

This time, the target is transgender children and teenagers, and the need to protect women’s athletics.  Lawmakers should see through this attempt to use the power of the state to beat up on some of our most vulnerable young people.

State Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, has filed L.D. 926, a bill that would ban what she unscientifically calls “biological males” from participating in athletics from kindergarten through high school. Such a law is necessary, O’Connor said, because the gender equity policies of the Maine Principals’ Association put some athletes at an unfair disadvantage.

O’Connor says she’s talked with young women who have “lost scholarships, lost their place on the podium,” but she can’t have talked to very many. According to a 2019 state Center for Disease Control survey of Maine high school-age students, fewer than 2 percent, or about 900 students, identify as being transgender, and only some of these students want to play sports. Over the past eight years, the MPA has given permission to about 30 transgender students to take part in athletics, and not all of them chose to participate.

There is no evidence of transgender athletes taking over and dominating Maine sports, so why do we need a law? And if it’s a question of scholarships and awards, why should the ban start with kindergarteners?

What we are seeing in Maine is part of a national strategy to use state legislatures and litigation to push back on transgender acceptance. National organizations are using polling and focus groups to sharpen an attack. They have identified sports fans’ concern about fair play to be easy to exploit.

To fix this made-up problem, they single out trans students, exposing them to bullying and harassment. Compared to cisgender people, whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex, transgender people are already at greater risk of being victims of violence. In the 2019 Maine survey, half of transgender students said they had seriously considered suicide in the past year, as opposed to 15 percent of cisgender students.

Rather than allowing school districts and the MPA to work with athletes in ways that are both fair and safe, these activist groups want a heavy-handed state response that will hurt more students than it could ever help.

Don’t be fooled by the packaging. These bills are not about women’s sports any more than opposition to marriage equality was about school curricula. These anti-transgender bills are instruments for discrimination, and they shouldn’t be made law.


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