Jazz Jennings was banned from playing girls’ soccer as a child, and she doesn’t want other transgender children to suffer the same fate. “When I was eight years old, I was banned from playing girls’ soccer for over two years. The ban made me feel excluded, had no merit, and negatively affected my family and me,” the 20-year-old activist captioned a post on Instagram Monday. “Today, many states, including Florida, are trying to take away sports from much transgender youth. Go to the link in my bio to take action and combat these bills before they pass.”
The post showed emotional footage of Jennings’s parents, Greg and Jeanette, reacting to the ban by Florida league officials, who argued that their daughter’s biological sex gave her an unfair advantage in the sport, a common argument that’s been challenged by medical researchers. A 2017 review of eight research articles and 31 athletic policies published in the journal Sports Medicine found the majority were written without evidence-based guidance and that “there is no direct or consistent research” to suggest that transgender females have an athletic advantage “at any stage. Of their transition.”
At age 5, Jennings openly identified as a girl, with the support of her parents, who felt their daughter had gender dysphoria — “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics,” per the Mayo Clinic.
Shannon Minter, the legal director of the NCLR, tells Yahoo Life that he helped Jennings and her family draft letters to the federation, which did not have anti-transgender policies at the time but subsequently adopted those that banned discrimination on gender identity. “It took a long time, but it was definitely because of Jazz,” he says. “I give her parents credit as they stood by her and without many resources available for them at the time.”
A spokesperson tells Yahoo Life that the federation was “pleased” to work with Jennings to put the policy together. Jennings’s win was just a tiny portion of a more extensive and ongoing battle. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 22 bills in 17 different states, including Montana, South Dakota, and Kansas, restrict transgender youth from playing on athletic teams. The LGBTQ advocacy group noted 82 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in 2021 state legislative sessions as of March 13, “surpassing the 2020 total of 79 and marking the highest number of anti-transgender bills in history.”