Park and recreation professionals across the country are guided by a shared vision — everyone deserves a great park. Every day, professionals strive to make this vision a reality as they lead the way toward positive change for equity, inclusion, resilience, and health and well-being. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 734, a federal ban on transgender and intersex sports, challenging the very mission, vision and core values of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
The passage of this cruel and discriminatory legislation targeting transgender, nonbinary and intersex people comes on the heels of more than 400 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills introduced in states across the United States this year. Collectively, these bills seek to exclude transgender, nonbinary and intersex youth from participating in school sports, eliminate access to life-saving gender-affirming healthcare, and silence the LGBTQIA+ community. Although the bill is unlikely to move beyond the House, our partners at Athlete Ally said it best, “the existence of this bill in itself is extremely alarming, and symptomatic of the overall climate surrounding transgender, nonbinary and intersex youth in sports.”
Embodying inclusion demands that no one is excluded from participation on the basis of race, income, ability, age, nationality, gender identity, gender expression or any other identity. Championing inclusion also means ensuring that individuals should not have to experience additional barriers to fully participate in park and recreation spaces, programs and services. With the passage of H.R. 734 and the intensified politicization of trans lives, we continue to live in a moment where park and recreation professionals can lead.
Sports are a powerful force for positive youth development. Research shows that youth who play sports report lower levels of depression, are less likely to experience obesity, and perform better academically. Sports provide numerous opportunities to build social and emotional skills, including goal setting, positive communication and decision-making, cultural humility and leadership. Yet, many LGBTQIA+ kids avoid extracurricular activities due to safety concerns and fear of discrimination, meaning they are excluded from the benefits of sports when they are not welcomed into programming. In response to H.R. 734, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) shared last week, “When LGBTQ+ students are able to play sports and are accepted as classmates, teammates and competitors, they gain access to the same physical, social and emotional benefits extended to all youth who participate in sports.”
While the attacks continue, the LGBTQIA2S+ community has remained resilient and steadfast in the fight for equality. Organizations and individuals are challenging this wave of oppression and discrimination, engaging allies and champions and ensuring support networks are strong and accessible, especially for youth. On April 10, elite professional, Olympic and Paralympic athletes signed an open letter opposing H.R. 734. The letter states, “Sports have given us our greatest friends, taught us incredible life lessons, and given us the confidence and drive to succeed in the world. Those of us who love sport know that its value goes far beyond the playing field, to developing a sense of self and identity, and reflecting what we value as a community. Sport is a tremendous outlet for physical and mental health, teaches valuable lessons on teamwork and discipline, and has brought us lifelong community. Every single child should have access to the lifesaving power of sports.”
As stated in the letter, “our deepest hope is that transgender and intersex kids will never have to feel the isolation, exclusion and othering that H.R. 734 is seeking to enshrine into law.” Park and recreation professionals have the power to make this hope a reality. At NRPA, we often say that “difference meets on the playground.” In many communities, the same can be said for the basketball court, softball field, track, hockey rink or soccer field. When we ensure equitable and inclusive access to youth sports, all kids win.
As park and recreation professionals lead the way toward inclusive youth sports programs to ensure all youth can fairly and fully participate, there are several resources and tools available to help support these efforts:
- Supporting Transgender Inclusion in Youth Sports: Check out a previous blog post outlining NRPA’s guidance and best practices for creating inclusive youth sports programs.
- On a Cross-Country Mission to Advocate for Trans Rights: Explore this recent Open Space Radio episode featuring Cal Dobbs, a queer transgender ultra marathoner and long-distance hiker who is running across America — from California to Florida — fighting for the inclusion of transgender people in sports and access to gender-affirming healthcare.
- Creating a Culture of Transgender Inclusion in Sports: Listen to Chris Mosier (he/him), founder of TransAthlete.com, who joined NRPA’s podcast to discuss transgender inclusion in sports and share resources and policy guidance.
- The Gender Unicorn? Tell Me More! Check out this past NRPA webinar offering park and recreation professionals an opportunity to learn about the history of LGBTQIA2S+ people in the United States and how their experiences have helped shape today’s work for equity and inclusion in society.
- A Pathway to Trans Inclusion in Youth Sports Blog and Podcast: Review recommendations from park and recreation professionals who are paving the way toward recreation for all.
- Implementing Safe Zone Training to Create More Inclusive Spaces: Learn more about the Safe Zone Project and Safe Zone trainings to help staff and community members deepen their understanding of LGBTQ+ identities and how to create inclusive practices, spaces, and policies.
- Creating an Inclusive Environment While You Wait: Explore this conversation between two park and recreation professionals and their experiences creating safe and inclusive spaces that foster belonging.
- Inclusive Aquatic Environments Start With You: Review recommendations and guidance on how to make aquatics facilities for inclusive for transgender and non-binary community members.
- Athlete Ally Resources: Resources specific to supporting transgender, non-binary and intersex inclusion in youth sports. Explore FAQ documents, sample policies for LGBTQ+ inclusion, guides to creating inclusive athletic spaces and cultures, and more.
- Resources for Youth-Serving Professionals, Human Rights Campaign: Curated list of resources available to youth-serving professionals. Explore checklists, tip sheets, websites, and best practice guides.
- Creating Safer Spaces for LGBTQ Youth, Advocates for Youth: This toolkit explores how schools, healthcare and community-based organizations can create safer spaces for LGBTQ+ youth with a racial equity lens. Explore sample practices, programs, and policies.
- Changing the Game, GLSEN: Resources for athletes, allies, educators, and coaches to create inclusive athletics for LGBTQ+ individuals. Explore game plans, blogs, stories, and more.
- The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health: Understanding the challenges that LGBTQ+ youth experience and the impact of anti-transgender legislation is critical to building solutions that center LGBTQ+.
Allison Colman (she/her) is NRPA’s Director of Health.
Autumn Saxton-Ross (she/her) is NRPA’s Vice President of Education and Chief Equity Officer.
Kyle Simpson (he/him) is NRPA’s Director of Government Affairs.