Dana Kaplan: Vermont is not immune to anti-trans hate

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This commentary is by Dana Kaplan of Burlington, executive director of Outright Vermont.

A Christian school girls basketball team’s refusal to play a championship game against an opponent with a transgender student-athlete is another wakeup call: There is a coordinated, heightened effort in Vermont to stop trans youth from existing, let alone thriving in our communities. 

For over 30 years, Outright has worked tirelessly to build a Vermont where all LGBTQ+ youth experience hope, equity and power. In recent months and years, we have seen a rise in aggressive anti-trans hate. There are currently over 350 anti-LGBTQ+ bills active in the U.S., most of them specifically targeting trans youth, attempting to systematically strip their rights to access basic health care, sports, and inclusive education (to name a few). 

Here in Vermont, for the first time in its decade-long history, hostile anti-trans groups protested our annual fundraiser, where children and youth of all ages gather with family and friends for a joyful community celebration. 

We hear from youth directly about the increase in threats and fear of violence they face, a trend supported by Vermont’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey data, which shows worsening health disparities compared to previous years. 

If you’re not paying attention to these wakeup calls, we urge you to recognize that the continuous barrage of messages and actions that tell LGBTQ+ youth they're not valued, cared for, or allowed to exist is on the rise. A school forfeiting a game because they disagree with someone’s right to play based on their identity is a clear example of how Vermont is not immune to anti-trans hate. Left unchecked, it will only continue to seep into our communities. 

No youth should ever have to endure this toxicity; it’s antithetical to accessing their right to education. 

Like all youth, transgender youth deserve to have fun, experience camaraderie and belonging, and have a safe and supportive environment in which they can learn and grow. The opportunity to participate in sports results in positive outcomes for all students, including physical development, social skills and psychological well-being.

Let’s be clear: Attempts to limit these rights are not only illegal, but actively contribute to a culture of division, bullying and gender policing that makes schools less safe for everybody. 

Let us also remind adults that sports are about human potential, not winning. All students can benefit from working together across differences to accomplish a shared goal. In this case, those goals include health, community and teamwork. Most students do not go on to play elite sports, including trangender athletes. The value here is not about winning; it’s living into our fullest potential as human beings. 

Research backs up that sports are a great way to improve individual well-being and school climate. GLSEN’s issue brief from 2022 titled “Gender Affirming and Inclusive Athletics Participation” highlights the important role of sports, citing that participation among LGBTQ+ youth significantly increases self-esteem, emotional regulation, and sense of belonging, while significantly decreasing hopelessness and suicidality. We need more of that, now! 

We know that this recent event will have a cascading impact on youth, families and schools across the state. We call on our leaders in education to be visible, communicative, and always setting precedent for what justice looks like in action — it starts with you. 

We urge adult allies of LGBTQ+ youth to be visible and vocal supporters of trans athletes’ right to play sports. And we encourage people to plug into Outright Vermont and any other groups or organizations working to protect trans kids’ right to exist. Together, we must forfeit hate.


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