New study examines why trans girls participate in high school sports

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Researchers at The Trevor Project last week published a peer-reviewed, qualitative study in Transgender Health that examined  motivations for participating or not participating in sports among a sample of 294 transgender high school girls.

Through open-ended survey questions, collected as part of the 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, respondents reported that they participated in sports because of the physical and mental health benefits, opportunities for social connection, and fun that can result from playing on school sports teams. However, among those interested in sports, many cited concerns around harassment, stigma, and gendered spaces. 

“As politicians continue to spread misinformation and justify banning transgender girls from playing school sports under the guise of ‘fairness,’ this study highlights the unique considerations and barriers that these girls face in choosing whether or not to play sports in the first place. The simple reality is that most trans girls want to play sports for the same reasons as any student — to benefit their health, and to have fun and build connection with friends,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, research scientist at The Trevor Project. “Findings also underscore that many trans girls who participated in sports experienced harassment and stigma based on their gender identity, which we know can contribute to negative mental health outcomes and suicide risk. We encourage coaches, teachers, and school administrators to seek LGBTQ-cultural competency training, to implement zero tolerance policies for anti-trans bullying and harassment, and to proactively create safe, affirming environments for trans athletes in the locker room and on the playing field.” 

Findings also demonstrate that a majority of transgender youth who reported that they did not participate in sports (52%) said it was because of a lack of interest. The theme of lack of interest was frequently observed in combination with fears of bullying or harassment, raising questions about whether respondents would report more interest in sports if they perceived them to be a safe or inclusive space. Other reported reasons for not playing included gendered teams or spaces, not being athletic, physical or mental health limitations, social discomfort around peer athletes, worsened gender dysphoria, bullying or harassment, and a lack of resources or access.

This study builds upon The Trevor Project’s previous research on LGBTQ youth sports participation, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) have never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating. Further, The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (53%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and nearly 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 83% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that they have worried about transgender people being denied the ability to play sports due to state or local laws. Further, 71% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported that they have experienced discrimination based on their gender identity, and those who had experienced such discrimination had significantly higher rates of attempting suicide in the past year.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at, or by texting START to 678678.