MISSOULA — On a 7-3 vote, the Missoula City Council on Monday adopted a resolution stating its support for transgender youth and their participation on a biological sports team of their choice – something the state Legislature banned earlier this year.
Supporters said that adopting the official city document amounts to a broad statement on fairness and equality, and gives all youth equal footing in gaining life skills.
Opponents, however, said it could upset the balance of women’s sports and give biological males an unfair advantage on the athletic field.
The resolution is merely a statement and does not override Republican-made laws passed by the Legislature earlier this year.
“I want to make something 100% clear and I want you to read my lips,” said council member Jesse Ramos. “I support all LGBTQ living in this community. I acknowledge transgender are a valued part of this community. But I know many young ladies whose careers hinge on a level playing field in sports. I don’t think playing in the sport that matches your birth is an infringement on rights at all.”
Ramos wasn’t alone in his support for transgender youth and their life choices while also opposing the resolution. Council members John Contos and Sandra Vasecka also opposed the measure while supporting the rights of Missoula’s transgender youth to pursue their personal life path.
Vasecka said one individual’s decision with their doctor is theirs alone to make, and government has no role in the matter. However, allowing them to participate on a sports team that was the opposite of their gender at birth created an uneven playing field.
“I don’t want any of my words to be misconstrued. You all matter. I 100% support your individual right and how you chose to pursue your life and how you chose to pursue happiness,” Vasecka said. “My only concern with this resolution is that by supporting it, I’d be supporting biological males to compete against biological females. I just can’t support that. I have to stick up for the female athletes.”
Vasecka said transgender youth “are absolutely welcome here.” But her opposition to the resolution drew an eye role from council member Julie Merritt.
Merritt disagreed with Vasecka’s perspective, calling the bills passed in January by the Montana Legislature damaging. Those bills prompted Monday’s action by the City Council.
“The bills in the state Legislature were built upon this ridiculous myth that there’s this bright-line test between boys and girls. The science of biology has advanced and we know that’s no longer true,” Merritt said. “It’s unfair if people are forced to live a life of what they know is not their truth.”
The resolution in support of transgender and LGBTQ+ youth was sponsored by council members Gwen Jones, Bryan von Lossberg and Jordan Hess in late June as a reaction to House Bills 112 and 427, which passed both chambers of the GOP Legislature in January.
The bills directly targeted transgender youth and restricts their participation in interscholastic sports to their gender at birth. The Republican measures also prohibited gender transition surgeries from being performed on minors.
Most members of the Missoula City Council have expressed outrage over the legislation.
“Kids who participate in extracurricular activities tend to do better in school. They have better graduation rates, higher grades, higher test scores, less depression, better attendance, lesser statistics of using alcohol and drugs, and they’re better engaged,” said Jones.
“To ban someone from having an experience that would help them grow up and become a better person is very damaging. To me, that’s the value of sports. When we talk about it not being fair, that goes to winning. It’s very fun to win in sports, but if that’s all you think sports are about, they’re not.”