The question remains: How, exactly, do bans on trans athletes protect girls from abuse? The answer is, they don’t. The notion that trans girls are a threat or pose danger to cis girls is simply untrue. If anyone’s safety is at risk right now, it’s trans kids’, whose access to gender-affirming care and safe spaces is being taken away as right-wing lawmakers continue to unleash a torrent of anti-trans laws and rhetoric.

Distressingly, in 2020 Idaho passed a law that actually invites further harm to girls and women through invasive genital or bodily inspections, according to the Movement Advancement Project. This is beyond horrifying and something no parent would want their child subjected to. Who gets to decide what a “real girl” looks like? What about tomboys, like I was as a child? Will they be subjected to invasive exams simply because they aren’t “feminine” enough?

Female athletes are already subjected to rigid gender norms as well as pressure around their performance and appearance, which is detrimental to their mental and physical health. NCAA athletes across the country are often tested for body composition to determine their level of body fat, which an expert told The New York Times is “steeped in weight stigma, stereotypes, and misinformation.” According to one survey, a staggering number—70%—of student athletes are experiencing mental health issues.

Between the inequities in resources, the dangers posed by people in positions of power, the pressure to look a certain way, and the high rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, there are more than enough threats to girls’ sports with clear evidence of damage. Every legislator pushing forward legislation to ban trans girls in the name of “saving women’s sports” should have to answer how, exactly, they are addressing all of these very real documented threats to girls in sports.

Instead, lawmakers are focusing their influence and resources on pitting cis and trans girls against each other. This harms all kids and stokes the flames of anti-trans hate by implying that, if trans girls are granted equality, cis girls will be harmed. This is inaccurate, untrue, and should be recognized for what it is: a talking point for those seeking not to protect cis girls, but to marginalize and harm trans girls.

The recent story of a Vermont high school deciding to forfeit a basketball tournament rather than play against a team with a transgender girl shows how all young female athletes are hurt by anti-trans beliefs. Rather than giving one trans girl a chance to play, school leaders punished everyone.

Fairness and equality means kids of all genders get more opportunities to play

The data is there to show that when school sports include transgender athletes, engagement is stronger for all girls. One 2021 report states that, in California, where trans youth have been allowed to play on teams in line with their gender identity since 2014, high school girls’ sports participation was the highest it has ever been in 2020, increasing by almost 14% since 2014.