Two California high school athletes are facing attacks by anti-transgender activists, including Caitlyn Jenner, after qualifying for next week’s California Interscholastic Federation State Track & Field Championships.
Last weekend, Sonoma Academy junior Athena Ryan, who is reportedly trans, placed second in the 1600-meter run at the North Coast Meet of Champions of California finals. Members of the anti-trans group Women Are Real showed up to the meet in Dublin, California to protest Ryan’s participation, holding a banner that read “Protect Female Sports.” The group later posted video showing protesters being escorted out of the event by a security guard.
Video of the awards ceremony following the race appeared to show Branson School senior Adeline Johnson, who placed fourth and thus did not qualify for the championships, giving a thumbs-down. Branson School assistant head Nathalio Gray told the San Francisco Chronicle that Johnson’s gesture “was a response to her mother regarding Adeline’s individual performance, and it should not be construed as a statement about her competitors.”
However, anti-trans organization Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS) did just that, tweeting the video, which went viral.
In tweets following the match, both Women Are Real and ICONS as well as other anti-trans activists repeatedly misgendered Ryan. Republican activist and failed California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner retweeted one such post.
“As ‘somewhat’ of a track star myself, and a trans person, THIS IS WRONG!!! HELP ME PUSH BACK!” she wrote, adding a link to her recently launched Fairness First political action committee, which she launched in TKTK in part to advocate against transgender athletes participating in women’s sports. Jenner, who is trans, didn’t bother to correct the misgendering of Ryan in the post she retweeted.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Lorelei Barrett of Buckley High School in Los Angeles’ Sherman Oaks neighborhood also qualified for the state championships after finishing third in the 1600-meter race at the Southern Section semifinals last weekend.
On Sunday, ICONS posted a video of Barrett discussing her win with high school track and field outlet MileSplit. The group misgendered Barrett as did many of the over 2,000 comments on the post.
Both Ryan and Barrett will compete at next week’s California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Track & Field Championships. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, under CIF’s 2013 “Gender Identity Participation” rules, athletes “will participate in programs consistent with their gender identity or the gender most consistently expressed.” The state is one of just 29 in the U.S. that do not ban transgender students from participating in sports that correspond with their gender identity.
California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told the paper that it is critical to protect the state’s trans youth amid “a real uptick in threats and potential violence against LGBTQ people.”
Amid the recent wave of anti-trans laws introduced in state houses across the country banning access to gender-affirming care, 21 states have banned transgender athletes from participating in school sports. Last month, the Biden Administration proposed a change to Title IX rules that would allow K–12 schools and universities to limit the participation of transgender athletes in sports while also forbidding schools from completely banning trans athletes altogether.
“It’s a very dangerous time for LGBTQ young people in the U.S., and especially for trans young people,” Wiener said. “In California, it absolutely needs to go in the other direction and we support these kids and embrace them to succeed.”