Nestled in the snowy buttes outside Jackson, seventh graders Jack Carter-Getz and Fiona Morgan were on their lunch break at Teton Science Schools’ Mountain Academy.
Fiona is on a hockey team.
“The social aspect is really important to me at least,” she said. “I would want everyone to be able to have that experience.”
That, Fiona said, includes transgender kids.
She and Jack have been rallying for a friend and others who will be affected by a recently passed law banning trans girls — starting in seventh grade — from participating in female sports in Wyoming schools.
In February, the middle schoolers helped organize a rally with dozens of protestors in the Jackson Town Square. At that time, state lawmakers were also considering legislation banning gender-affirming care for trans youth and barring discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in some classrooms.
Those bills failed, but — sitting in an empty school room before history class — Jack said they’re still upset the sports bill passed.
“A lot of my friends, they’ve just been just kind of exhausted, because this is just stupid,” Jack said. “We’ve been fighting this for so long, and just to see something like that get passed is just frustrating.”
Mental health impacts
They’ve been part of a campaign to send hundreds of letters to lawmakers and the governor. A local social worker, therapist and community organizer, Cheyenne Syvertson, spearheaded that effort.
Syvertson said trans kids and their families are having a really hard time right now, even though the new sports law doesn’t take effect until July.
“The discussion makes them feel like they do not belong and they cannot be safe here,” she said.
Syverston, who identifies as queer, holds support groups for gender-diverse youth and their parents — reaching up to 25 families across the state. She said many of these kids are in “crisis.”
“It is already difficult to be gender diverse,” Syvertson said. “And much more difficult when members of the community nationally are questioning whether they exist at all or whether they should be allowed to participate in the community and public spaces in the same way as anybody else.”
More than a third of U.S. states have passed bans on trans youth participating in sports, including neighboring states Idaho, Montana and Utah.
Syvertson said playing on sports teams is critical for these kids and their mental health. It gives them a sense of belonging and community.
“It can be even of more importance and more affirming of their gender to be allowed to play in the sport that aligns with their gender,” she said.
Local activist Grant Gallaher agreed. He played soccer all through school.
“Sports were arguably the biggest thing in my life for most of my life,” he said.
Wyoming’s governor, Mark Gordon, has also championed the value of sports.
In a recent public letter, he called the ban “overly draconian” and said that it’s potentially harmful to kids’ mental health.
But the Republican governor still allowed the ban, passed by the GOP-led legislature, to become law.
Gallaher said he thinks it’s a political game.
“I think it’s disappointing for the governor as an individual and our political system as a whole that we have to make those sorts of political calculations,” Gallaher said. “It’s going to be some of the most vulnerable children and families in Wyoming that are going to feel the brunt of those decisions.”
Gallaher went with Syvertson to the capitol earlier this year to protest the sports bill. He said a lot of the lawmakers supporting the bill centered their arguments around fairness and safety.
One Teton County representative, State Senator Dan Dockstader, cosponsored the bill. He told KHOL he heard strong support for the now-law from across the state.
According to the governor’s office, there are only four known transgender student athletes in Wyoming.
‘A problem that doesn’t exist’
Back at the Mountain Academy, Jack questioned why lawmakers are focusing on trans kids playing in sports in the first place.
“Don’t come up with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said. “You’re just hurting kids and … just causing more stress, anxiety for kids who already have plenty of it.”
After sending many emails out to GOP lawmakers and the governor, Jack and his friend Fiona said they’ve yet to hear back.
“I didn’t know if they actually saw them or not,” Fiona said. “And I found that a little bit shocking that nobody actually responded to the emails we sent to them.”
Jack said they’re going to keep being loud and supporting trans kids.
“They’re going through enough as it is already,” he said. “They don’t need another thing to stress about and worry about. They’re not hurting anyone. There’s no issue.”
Jack and Fiona finished up their lunch break and headed to history class, adding they’ll be out on the streets again soon — waving flags, yelling chants and fighting for trans rights.