Bathrooms are once more a political battleground in America. US president Donald Trump’s rollback of the Obama administration’s policy on transgender bathroom use yesterday (Feb. 22) rescinds previous federal guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice in public schools. Now, it’s up to individual schools to decide what to allow—and critics say trans students will suffer an increase in mental health issues and bullying if forced to use the bathroom of their assigned sex.
The switch-around of policy could also do damage in another major aspect of US schools: athletics. By overruling Obama’s guidance on bathroom use, the Trump administration is also restricting transgender students’ use of athletic locker rooms. While the new rules don’t explicitly force students to use a locker room or play on a team that corresponds with their assigned sex, their subtext—that trans students’ choices are not protected under federal policy—stands against the progress that the LGBT community is trying to make in K-12 and university sports.
“It’s very much a sports issue,” Hudson Taylor, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Athlete Ally, tells Quartz. “There are still many places in this country that don’t have clear protections for transgender student athletes. When you have an administration that doesn’t recognize the already difficult time that trans students are going through, it doesn’t help foster a world in which everybody can thrive.” Sports, Taylor says, are fundamentally built on principles of equality—but when schools or athletic departments don’t make it clear that they welcome and include all students, that equality crumbles.
Outside of educational institutions, even major athletic groups like the National Basketball Association and the National Football League are getting involved in bathroom policy; both groups have warned Texas over a bill the state is weighing that would ban transgender people from the public bathrooms they want to use. But it’s still schools—home to easily-influenced children and teenagers—whose decisions on athletic inclusion will carry the biggest weight.