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Shane Diamond is the impact campaign coordinator for the film “Changing the Game,” a transgender advocate, and former college athlete. He was previously the communications director at EqualityMaine. A version of this column was originally published by them.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that sports saved my life.
I grew up in a small town known as an offbeat refuge for artists and skiers. Locally, the area had a reputation for heroin overdoses, drunken driving fatalities and high school dropouts. But after school and on the weekends, my friends and I all played youth sports like soccer and basketball together. Athletics kept us occupied, supervised and generally out of trouble. We also learned lifelong lessons about accountability, hard work and time management.
When soccer season ended and the boys started playing ice hockey, I was one of the only girls who was eager to join them; I wanted to do what my friends did. Looking back, it makes sense that I was “one of the boys” because I was a boy, but we didn’t have language or resources to support transgender youth in the early ’90s the way we do today.
After high school, I played varsity women’s ice hockey at Bowdoin College. I can’t tell you our win-loss, which team won the league championship or how many goals I scored, but I can say with absolute assurance that my hockey teammates are still some of my best friends. And that didn’t change after I came out as transgender in 2016 and started transitioning.
We’ve supported each other during marriage and divorce, while caring for ill parents and starting families, and through experiences of racism and discrimination. During the pandemic, we have remained connected online and debated whether or not we’re going to wear pants with elastic waists forever. We share a bond that can only be forged through long hours at the rink and grueling lifting schedules at the gym. We all remember the collective joy of celebrating a win and the shared grief after a loss.
As a kid who didn’t quite fit in, I always found safety and stability among my teammates. When the weight of the outside world felt like it was too heavy for a teenager struggling with identity, I knew that for an hour each day, I could leave it all outside the rink and just play hockey.
Then in my 30s, while fighting for sobriety and battling depression, outreach from my college teammates saved my life. Some made a visit to Maine when I was approaching rock bottom just so we could lie in a hotel bed, eat Thai food and watch trashy reality TV. Others messaged me on the daily group text where we offer support and accountability.
I know I’m not alone in my experiences. For transgender youth, having access to sports is quite literally life-saving; according to a study recently published by the Center for American Progress, the mere existence of transgender-inclusive sports policies lowers the risk of poor mental health and suicidality for trans youth. Even if trans youth don’t participate in sports, the fact that they are able to reduces their risk of depression and attempted suicide.
As a community, we need the mental health benefits that sport can offer. The largest survey of transgender people, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, reports that transgender people are nine times more likely to attempt suicide over our lifetime than our cisgender peers. And almost 75 percent of transgender people who attempt suicide are under the age of 18. Even without harmful and invasive laws, it is dangerous to be a young trans person.
But lawmakers in 31 states, including here in Maine, are preying on this already vulnerable population by trying to pass laws to ban trans kids from playing sports. Politicians are targeting young children who are already coping with trauma after a year of wearing masks and only seeing their classmates on Zoom. They are going after teenagers who, like each of us, miss spending time with their friends without being afraid for the future.
With this wave of anti-transgender legislation, trans youth are hearing consistently false and harmful messages about themselves: That our inherent identities are deceptive and unfair, that there’s not enough room for us, that we don’t belong. But I am living proof that there is no better lifeline for trans kids than ensuring they are able to play sports with their peers. We owe it to kids, transgender and cisgender alike, to make sure they have the same opportunities to participate in, fall in love with, and be saved by sports the way so many of us have.
Call your local schools’ athletic directors and demand that athletic policies allow trans youth to participate as themselves, contact your state senator and representative — many of whom have never met a trans person — and tell them why this matters to you and your family. Every young person deserves the chance to learn and grow through the transformative power of sports.
When I say that I don’t know where I’d be without sports, I mean it quite literally; without the support networks that have lasted well beyond my time on the ice, I would likely have joined too many of my transgender siblings who felt isolated and excluded enough to end their lives. Trans youth need our support now, loud and proud and in unison, before it’s too late to fight for them.