By Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow/AZ Mirror
PHOENIX — Last week, Phoenix’s third-largest school district issued a statement in support of transgender youth across the state, denouncing recently passed legislation that targets trans student athletes.
The governing board of Phoenix Union High School District unanimously approved a resolution opposing Senate Bill 1165, which bars trans girls and women from joining the athletic teams of the gender they identify with. The bill was signed in late March and will become law 90 days after the current legislative session ends.
“Transgender youth do not deserve to be the targets of discriminatory, politically motivated legislation. They deserve the opportunity to participate in school athletic programs, and they deserve to do so without their rights being attacked,” Phoenix Union board member Aaron Márquez wrote in an email to the Arizona Mirror.
The district’s resolution calls the new law an “attack on the safety of trans children,” and makes clear that that the district stands in opposition, though it will be forced to abide by the law once it’s enacted. Márquez, who proposed and helped draft the document, said the goal is to send a message of acceptance to trans students and their families amid the harm caused by recent political rhetoric.
The board’s president, Lela Alston, has observed that rhetoric more closely than most: she’s a senator in the state legislature who sat through debates where proponents vehemently defended the bill as a protection for young girls from unfair competition, using biological essentialism to discount and vilify trans girls. A child’s gender identity shouldn’t be a reason to target them, Alston said.
“They’re kids, for heavens’ sake. We need to support our kids no matter what’s going on,” she said.
Trans youth already face enough difficulty getting acceptance from their own parents in many cases, Alston said, and the state should not be contributing to that burden — especially when it can lead to such adverse effects.
Studies show that as much as 82% of transgender people struggle with suicidal thoughts, and the recent spike in anti-trans legislation across the country is negatively affecting their mental health.
The resolution notes these dangers as part of why its position was adopted: “LGBTQIA+ youth who do not feel affirmed in their identity are more likely to attempt suicide and self-harm than those who do feel affirmed.”
While no trans students or parents have reached out to the Phoenix Union board with concerns, Alston said their presence in a district that serves more than 28,000 students is highly likely, and thus warrants a declaration of support. She hopes other districts will follow Phoenix Union’s lead in throwing their support behind trans students in the state, who need a show of solidarity in the face of so much vitriol.
Gloria Gomez, a senior at the University of Arizona, is the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow working with editors from the Arizona Mirror. Gomez has interned at the Arizona Daily Star and worked at the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She is a dual major in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor. She’s a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The UA School of Journalism started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter killed in a 1976 car bombing.