Dawn Staley gives boost to trans rights on championship weekend

University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley on Saturday said transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete on female sports teams, giving a lift to transgender rights before her team’s NCAA championship victory.

“If you’re a woman, you should play,” Staley said during a press conference, responding to a question about whether she believes “biological males” should be permitted to participate in women’s sports.

“If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports, or vice versa, you should be able to play. That’s my opinion.”

LGBTQ advocates celebrated Staley’s comments as a win for transgender rights.

“I’ve had the great fortune of being in @dawnstaley orbit since 2001. I have been amazed and proud of her ever since not only for what she’s accomplished on the court, but off. This is up there as one of the most proud times ever. Way to go Dawn!,” Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Leaders in women’s sports like Coach Dawn Staley and the Women’s Sports Foundation support trans women playing on women’s teams. Thanks for speaking out, @dawnstaley!,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the Center for Transgender Equality and the son of former GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), said in a post on X.

Conservative groups and individuals, who are more likely to oppose transgender rights, said Staley had used her platform irresponsibly.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) called Staley’s comments “absolute lunacy.”

“I will stop at nothing to protect the achievements of our women and girls. Their successes will NOT be taken away by men,” Mace said on X. “Biological men DO NOT belong in the locker room or on the court with our women and girls.”

Mace during a House hearing last year said Republicans are the “feminists of today” for backing a bill to ban transgender women and girls from competing on female school sports teams. The bill, which passed the House in April 2023, has no Democratic support.

Mace is listed as a cosponsor on two House proposals to ban transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. A third bill would prevent transgender women from competing on U.S. Olympic teams.

South Carolina’s Freedom Caucus, a coalition of the Legislature’s most conservative members, on Saturday touted the state’s own ban on transgender student-athletes while condemning Staley’s support of transgender women and girls in female sports.

“Once again USC Coach @dawnstaley uses her taxpayer-funded platform to push left wing policies opposed to SC values,” the group said on X.

A reporter for a conservative news outlet asked Staley about her stance on the issue.

Staley paused before answering, and added her remarks were likely to be met with criticism from people who oppose the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports, but said “I’m OK with that.”

South Carolina capped off an undefeated season with their victory against Iowa in Sunday’s NCAA Tournament championship game. Staley’s third national championship in the past decade cemented her place as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Immediately following Sunday’s win, she praised God. “We serve an unbelievable God,” she told ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “Uncommon favor, unbelievable. So proud, I’m so proud.”

Support for policies that allow transgender athletes to participate on sports teams that align with their gender identity has waned among most Americans, a June Gallup poll found. Twenty-six percent of respondents said transgender athletes should be permitted to play on teams that match their gender identity, down from 34 percent in 2021.

Nearly half of states have passed laws that prevent transgender student-athletes from competing in accordance with their birth gender, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks LGBTQ laws. The enforcement of laws passed in Arizona, Idaho, West Virginia and Idaho are currently blocked by court orders.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, on Monday instituted a policy that effectively bans transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports.

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