The Latest Right-Wing Culture War: Attacking Trans Women and Girls 

By National Women’s Law Center Action Fund

Primaries are in full swing, and the general election is just months away—candidates are fine-tuning strategies and messaging to rile up their bases and turn out the vote. Unsurprisingly, Republicans are turning to their go-to strategy of creating a culture war based on misinformation and inciting fear and violence to rally party support. In previous election cycles, they attacked our right to love and marry whomever we choose and our ability to make decisions about our bodies. This cycle, Republicans are targeting trans women and girls, including their right to play sports alongside their peers. 

This is just the latest culture war: The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Brookings Institution have found that “80% of Republicans feel America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.” Instead of rejecting patriarchy, misogyny, and racism, Republican politicians exploit fear and anxiety for personal and political gains. With the public’s wide acceptance and understanding of marriage equality and abortion care—culture issues the right has leaned on in the past—Republicans have increased attacks on trans women and girls in sports, under the false guise of “protecting women.”

How the culture war works: Republicans know their policy positions aren’t popular so they seek to distract voters by scapegoating vulnerable groups and driving fear. One of the reasons Republicans are focusing on anti-trans sports policies is because they are facing a massive backlash for erasing the constitutional right to abortion. Republicans know they need to distract voters from their continuing attacks on abortion care at the federal, state, and local levels by deceptively claiming they’re advocating for women and girl athletes. The visibility and inclusion of trans people (NOT the existence of trans people) in mainstream society is also newer, enabling Republicans to more easily twist facts and stories to spread misinformation and fear to potential voters.

Republican attacks on trans women and girls in sports: In 2024 alone, state lawmakers have introduced more than 48 bills across the country to ban trans girls from participating in educational sports programs. Last year, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the misleading “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023” which would ban trans athletes from women and girls’ sports programs at federally funded schools and educational institutions. Current Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has adopted the strategy, broadly stating he would ban transgender individuals from participating in sports. Many of the leading potential candidates for vice president have also shown support for trans athlete bans, including Tim Scott, Doug Burgum, Kristi Noem, and Tom Cotton. Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship in 2022 running an anti-trans campaign, and has since banned girls who are trans from participating in sports. Republicans will be looking for the same wins in 2024.  

This culture war threatens all women: Sports bans may include invasive medical tests and examinations that particularly target women and girls who fall outside stereotypical notions of femininity. That could include tall women, very muscular women, women who present in more masculine ways, or women and girls who simply are “too good.” For example, earlier this year, a Utah State Board of Education member publicly questioned the gender of a 16-year-old cisgender girl playing on her high school basketball team because she had short-cropped hair, wore baggy clothing, and was athletic. This led to bullying and threats of violence against her and her family to the point where they required police protection. This treatment creates a ripple effect, which is why states with hostile policies designed to bully transgender and nonbinary students see overall fewer girls playing school sports, whereas states with trans-inclusive sports policies have more girls playing sports. There are also actual gender-based disparities in school sports that Republicans continue to ignore, including less funding and resources, racial disparities that mean girls of color are less likely to have athletic opportunities at school, sex-based harassment of student-athletes, and unequal pay for coaches of women’s and girls’ teams.  

As we get closer to the general election, you will see more and more deliberate misinformation and attacks on women and girls who are trans. With accurate information and the support of NWLC AF behind you, we hope you will reject and call out these attacks and hold politicians who espouse bigotry and hate accountable by telling Congress to stop attacking LGBTQIA+ people! This Pride Month (and every day), reiterate to your friends, family, and community that discriminatory anti-trans athlete policies do not protect “fairness” in women’s and girls’ sports, they endanger all women and girls.