Transgender athletes speak out as parents petition to change policy that allows them to compete as girls
“I was expecting it," trans teen Terry Miller said of the backlash she faces.
Some Connecticut parents are petitioning to change the rules of state high school athletics after two transgender track and field stars began dominating girls' competitions.
Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, both 16, are transgender student-athletes who compete on the girls' track and field teams at their high schools, and their state championship glory has triggered a heated debate in their community.
Terry and Andraya came in first and second place, respectively, in the 100-meter race at the State Open Finals on June 4. Terry also won the top prize for the 200-meter dash.
"I was expecting it," Terry told ABC News' Linsey Davis of the backlash she's faced as a trans athlete. "Every day, I would go home, search up 'track and field high school Terry Miller.'"
Some online comments have been harsh, Terry said. Critics complain that she and Andraya both have an unfair advantage, after having been assigned the male sex at birth. The critics say the male testosterone hormone gives them a leg up in sports.
Andraya told ABC News that she decided "the summer before ninth grade” it would be more appropriate for her to run on the girls' team because she identifies as female.
Both athletes have begun hormone therapy and said for the most part they've been welcomed by family, friends, coaches and administrators with open arms.
Recently, however, two petitions were started in an attempt to change the rules at their local governing body of interscholastic sports, which allows students to participate on a team based on their gender identity or how they identify.
"The girls athletes are at the physical disadvantage compared to the transgender female," said Bianca Stanescu, a parent who started one of the petitions after her daughter lost to Andraya and Terry at a track meet in May.
"They have, naturally, testosterone within their body that has been proven to give a physical advantage in sports," Stanescu added.
Stanescu, who did not know the girls were already taking the female hormones, has garnered a little over one hundred signatures to date. Medical science shows that estrogen therapy changes the body, replacing some lean muscle with fat, though it affects every individual differently.
Both girls said they try not to let the online complaints get to them.
"I'm not affected by it at all," Andraya said. "I just roll my eyes and keep pushing."
Andraya's parents said what is most important is not track and field accolades, but the well-being of their child.
"Track is number 100 on my list of concerns as a father of a transgender daughter," Rahsaan Yearwood told ABC News.
"I'm talking about raising a child for life, and so is it fair that that child is excluded?" he added. "Is it fair that that child doesn't feel like they have a place they belong?”
Ngozi Nnaji, Andraya's mother, added that running on the girls' team "allows her to be who she wants to be."
"And I think that has a little bit more weight ... than just winning a medal," she added.
Rules surrounding transgender student-athletes at the high school level vary from state to state. In seven states, students must either: play on the team that matches their birth certificate; the team for which they have undergone gender reassignment surgery; or the one for which had extended hormone therapy. Medical research can't identify the line where a competitive advantage may or may not exist for trans athletes for either gender.
Despite the petitions circulating in her community, Andraya said her track and field goal is "to qualify for nationals next year in outdoor and in indoor track," adding that she has been avidly training to accomplish her goal.
Andraya said she also hopes to "inspire others," and if she could send a message to other trans youth it would be: "Just follow your heart."
"Don't let other people determine what you do in life," she added.
Terry said that she believes if the roles were reversed, she would welcome a transgender teammate even if it meant she were losing competitions.
"It would just push me to run faster," she said. "I'd be happy for them, 'cause they get to do what they want. They're happy, so then that should in turn make me happy."
Terry said she also hopes to qualify for nationals, but she also hopes to be a voice for others who are different.
"I want to speak for people," she said, "that aren't looked at normal, or are basically outed, or put in a different group because of their differences."
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