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The Rainbow Pride flag flies over the Wisconsin State Capitol June 5, 2020. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Discrimination and stigma put transgender youths at greater risk of mental health issues. Bills targeting them only seek “to marginalize people,” Sen. Kelda Roys says.

Wednesday was a rough day for transgender youth and their allies at the state Capitol, where not one or two, but three legislative committees debated whether trans girls should be allowed to participate in sports at the K-12 and college level according to their gender identity. 

And while it is highly likely the bills will be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers should they reach his desk, transgender youth advocates and allies, including Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) whose sister is transgender, pointed out introducing and holding hearings on such bills will still harm an already vulnerable community. 

“It hurts me to think about the message they will receive when they read about today’s hearing in the news,” Neubauer testified before the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.

Neubauer said her sister “carries fear of the threat of violence with her every day because of the hate and bigotry many people feel toward the trans community.”

“Bills like AB195 are damaging because they feed that hate for women like my sister,” Neubauer said. “They ‘other’ our youth when we should be loving them for having the courage to live their truth.”

But instead of receiving support, Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), who testified before the Senate Committee on Human Services, Children and Families, pointed out that once again the transgender community–which is already at higher risk of struggling with mental health due to discrimination and stigma–is forced to watch others debate their humanity,  

“This is already a group of young people that suffers from among the highest rates of suicide attempts and yet these kids came to the Capitol basically to beg for their own humanity in front of adults who should be doing everything they can to help these young people feel welcomed and valued,” Roys said. “[Republicans] think that they’re putting Democrats in a tough position to stand up for kids. Although I don’t think that Democrats feel that standing up for kids’ basic equal treatment is a tough thing to do.”

Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton), who chairs the LGBTQ caucus, pointed out that Republicans loved to talk about mental health when it bolstered their argument to reopen schools during a pandemic.

“The fact that the Republican colleagues of mine have spent the entire pandemic yelling about how hard this has been on the mental health of our young people and how suicide rates are skyrocketing,” Snodgrass said. “Yet we’ll put into the public discussion arguments about whether or not transgender youth belong and whether or not their participation in sports is valid. I just don’t understand that; if they care about mental health and suicide prevention, why they would be singling these bills out and pushing these forward.”

In addition to being carbon copies of bills introduced in other states, the bills’ author didn’t consult the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association which already has a policy in place on the transgender student participation in sports, nor the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s policy on transgender college student athlete participation.

RELATED: Here’s Why Republicans Are Introducing Bills All Over the US for Things Nobody in Wisconsin Is Asking For

Because, according to Snodgrass, those pushing the bills knew that Evers would veto them and the committees held these hearings just to score political points.

“This goes one step beyond an exercise in political theater,” Snodgrass said. “This becomes a harmful public exercise wherein transgender youth and their families and community who loved them have to hear this testimony played out.”

And because the bills are certainly destined to be vetoed, Roys pointed out that means the Republicans don’t have to face the potential consequences of passing such legislation. 

“It comes at no cost to them because they know it’s not going to become law. They know we’re not going to face the kinds of protests and economic loss that other states that have pushed anti-trans legislation [have faced],” Roys said. “They’re protected by [Evers’] veto. And that, in a way, frees them to just play to their base.”

Supporters of the bills testified that they believed that boys may decide to declare themselves transgender so they could play girls’ sports to gain a competitive edge, an argument Snodgrass finds absurd.

“I have been personal friends with a number of transgender individuals, both transgender women and transgender men and nobody ‘decides’ to be trans in order to get a leg up in sports or their job or any other thing,” Snodgrass said. “Trans people who identify as trans have a big hill ahead of them; a hill of discrimination, a hill of misunderstanding, a hill of of often danger, and hate crimes and all sorts of despicable behavior against them. Nobody voluntarily does that just so that they can win a couple of races or get a promotion at their job and to think otherwise is completely ignorant.”

As for the argument that these are bills to support women athletes and ensure they’re opportunities to compete and succeed, Roys doesn’t buy it.

“Give me a break,” said Roys. “That is so intellectually dishonest. If these legislators cared about women in sports, they would be demanding that women actually get equal spending and opportunity in sports. Which of course they’re not.”

Roys also testified against two anti-choice laws, which were scheduled for the same hearing as the anti-trans bills. The connection between those bills and Republicans’ decision not to even discuss expanding BadgerCare on Tuesday was not lost on her. 

“If they actually cared about things like fetal wellbeing or the health of women and girls, they would surely have taken the Medicaid expansion because the data is so clear that that will improve health outcomes,” Roys said. “The goal isn’t to help women; it’s to marginalize people.”