Senate File 51 has no place in the Equality State

"I do not want to see my home state become yet another battleground where the law seeks to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity."

This publication was authored by Chase J. Pendleton

This past week, the Senate Education Committee passed Senate File 51, the so-called Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. It is the first piece of anti-trans legislation in Wyoming but one of many that have appeared across the nation. Whether these laws are aimed at health care, school sports, or access to restrooms, each attempts to remove transgender people from public space. Or, as ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio put it, “eradicating a population.” In total, 39 states have introduced bills that attack trans youth and it is important to remember that what is happening in Wyoming is part of a much larger conversation.

I was born and raised in Wyoming. My family has roots here. I was loved and supported every step of my journey, a vital support system that allowed me to be who I was and realize my fullest potential. I went on to attend one of the top universities in the nation, something I never could have achieved without the space, time and resources I needed to live authentically. Only months after returning home from college, however, I am confronted with a bill that actively discriminates against trans youth. I do not want to see my home state become yet another battleground where the law seeks to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity. I do not want Wyoming to be a place where families are threatened and futures put into question.

Although Brian Schroeder, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Wyoming, suggested that being transgender is a new phenomenon, one that did not exist some hundred odd years ago, scholars such as Jules Gill-Peterson with her book, “Histories of the Transgender Child,” have proven otherwise. Trans people have always existed. Trans children have always existed. Letting transgender athletes play on the team that aligns with and affirms their gender identity is not an unfair practice.

Senate File 51 does not have students’ best interests at heart. In fact, by and large trans people have been left out of the discussion. As James Baldwin wrote in “No Name in the Street,” “If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection the most! — and listens to their testimony.” And so I ask — among the voices that have weighed in on this conversation, where is the testimony of trans people? Why did Chairman Charles Scott refuse to hear further testimony on the issue before it passed through the Senate?

There is no such thing as a universal trans experience, just as there is no single human experience. I cannot speak for all trans people. I was not a student athlete and, beyond this, my transition did not begin until after I had graduated high school and left the state of Wyoming. What I can say, however, is that trans rights are human rights.

Senate File 51 is based on a series of assumptions and misconceptions around gender. The idea that “biologically male” individuals will always grow up to become men and “biologically female” individuals will always grow up to be women supposes that there is a link between biology and gender. There is not. Furthermore, much of the rhetoric used in discussions surrounding biological sex and its relationship to gender overlooks or ignores the existence of intersex people and non-binary identities. Wyoming has an opportunity here to stand behind its trans youth instead of working against them. Senate File 51 has no place in the Equality State.

A version of this column also appeared in the Casper Star-Tribune.