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Credit: Susan Demas/Michigan Advance via Georgia Recorder

Transgender students and their allies said Wednesday they will not be silent in the face of a new state policy they say discriminates against transgender athletes on school teams.

“We are at a point where Republicans are using children as political fodder, and we deserve so much better,” said activist and former Democratic state House candidate Bentley Hudgins. “Our trans youth, our queer youth, every single kid in this state deserves so much better than what we are being afforded right now.”

Last month, the Georgia High School Association which oversees athletics in 465 schools across the state changed its rules to require students to play on a team that matches the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

The rule change came shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill aimed at transgender athletes. Transgender athletes participating in women’s sports has been a big front in the American culture wars in recent months. Kemp and many fellow Republicans say trans women have an unfair advantage over their competition, but opponents call the legislation a cynical election year ploy to transphobic voters and point out that there has been no example of a transgender athlete dominating a sport in Georgia.

“This ban solves a problem that does not exist,” said Peter Isbiter, head of the metro Atlanta chapter of TransParent, a resource group for parents of transgender children. “There is no groundswell of cisgender kids and students seeking to ban their classmates from team sports.”

Jennifer Susko, a school counselor who resigned from Cobb County schools in protest of the district’s handling of racial issues, said the new rule contradicts counselors’ professional obligation to treat transgender students in accordance with their gender identity and ensure they do not suffer discipline, harassment or discrimination based on their gender identity or gender expression.

“GHSA and Georgia legislators are creating exactly the type of unsafe, discriminatory environment for trans youth that school counselors are tasked with preventing,” she said. “When they are not provided a safe environment and a sense of belonging, transgender youth face elevated risk for depression, thoughts of suicide and attempting suicide. In particular, Black transgender youth report disproportionate rates of suicide risk with 59% seriously considering suicide, and more than one in four, or 26%, attempting suicide in 2020. So, there’s an urgency to building safe, inclusive, welcoming spaces, including in sports, for transgender students, in an effort to intervene.”

The three were among the speakers Wednesday during a virtual meeting after an in-person rally scheduled for Sunday was canceled following a death threat to one of the organizers.

“The death threat, which mentioned the time, date and location of the rally, was sent to a young LGBTQ organizer in the metro Atlanta area via email,” said Isabelle Philip, press director for the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. “The student is in conversations with officials and experts. As this is a young person and we work with young, trans and queer folks most directly, we are not revealing more details at this time.”

On Saturday, Police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho arrested 31 men equipped with riot shields and a smoke grenade and packed into a moving truck, apparently on their way to riot at a local LGBTQ pride month celebration.

The incident, along with heated rhetoric equating teaching children about LGBTQ people with child abuse, has some advocates on edge.

Isbiter sought to draw a line between the state action and the recent threats.

“The actions of Gov. Kemp and every member of the executive committee of the GHSA who voted for this ban and the actions of the coward who made these threats over the weekend are a direct threat to the rights of our families and children, the right not to live in fear,” he said.

This story comes to GPB through reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.