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Nikki Haley baselessly links trans student athletes to suicidal ideation among teen girls

The struggling presidential candidate's baseless claim during a CNN town hall on Sunday was gross for multiple reasons.


Whether she's downplaying racism or flippantly pondering the possible date of President Joe Biden’s death, Nikki Haley seems to understand rote Reaganism won’t win the day among conservatives as it has in years past. So she’s upped the extremism. 

The 2024 Republican presidential candidate has been lagging behind her biggest GOP primary competitors in polling for months and appears desperate to capture a news cycle. And, for Republicans, what better way to earn her one than numbskulled cruelty?

This is what viewers got Sunday during CNN's town hall with Haley, in which she appeared to baselessly suggest transgender student-athletes are to blame for suicidal ideation among teen girls. She claimed that trans kids' playing sports is “the women’s issue of our time.” 

Seriously. She actually said that. The Supreme Court effectively stole bodily autonomy from millions of women last year by overturning the constitutional right to abortion and allowing states to ban abortion, including in cases of rape or incest. Along with that, Haley’s former boss and the current standard-bearer of her party, Donald Trump, was just found civilly liable for sexually assaulting and later defaming a woman. And recent reports allege widespread child sex abuse in some conservative-leaning religious groups.

But let Nikki Haley tell it, the bigger issue is whether a little trans girl should be allowed to play soccer with other girls?

The shame is twofold.

To make a cheap political point — insulting trans people — Haley tramples on truths about teen suicide and women’s sports. Put another way, trans kids' playing sports isn’t the “women’s issue of our time,” as Haley claimed. In fact, it’s not even the most pressing women’s sports issue of our time. 

First, there’s no evidence whatsoever showing that trans-inclusive policies — like allowing trans kids to use locker rooms assigned to the gender with which they identify — have any bearing on the rate at which teen girls are killing themselves.

Haley’s campaign doubled down on her absurd remarks in a statement Monday, claiming the inclusion of trans women in athletics amounts to “aggressive bullying” that tells women their “voices don’t matter.” 

Her phrasing here couldn't have been any worse.

In fact, as I wrote for The ReidOut Blog last year, trans students in recent years have experienced bullying at school at a rate far higher than their cisgender peers. 

And as for telling women their “voices don’t matter,” Haley would do well to actually listen to experts who’ve been steeped in the conversation about equity in women’s sports for years. These are the people whose voices have actually been drowned out by much of the public discussion around women’s sports. As I wrote in another ReidOut Blog post last year, “Women’s sports are facing real problems. Trans kids aren’t it.”

In that post, I referred to a lecture hosted by Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute featuring women in sports media, former athletes and sports executives who all spoke about the true issues women face in sports — and the ways anti-LGBTQ conservatives hijack the conversation to push their own political agenda. 

I’m posting it again below. Watch it and you’ll note that none of the panelists referred to trans people as pressing threats to women in sports. Instead, they talked about patriarchal leadership structures, denial of adequate equipment, poor recruitment and the media’s marginalization of women’s sports as a whole.

When I see Haley and other right-wing politicians trying to win women over with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, I’m reminded of writer, filmmaker and former college basketball player Melissa Johnson speaking critically in that lecture of a “climate of panic, and fear, and scarcity about what a trans athlete is gonna mean for you.”

As conservatives feel the electoral wrath of millions of women who’ve had abortion rights taken from them, politicians like Haley rely on fear and panic over trans people in their attempts to keep some women aligned with the party. 

Republicans seem to think they can paper over their anti-women politics with anti-trans politics. Unfortunately for them, and people like Nikki Haley, the ruse is plain to see.