- May 29, 2001
Gavy Smith is a five-sport athlete at Decorah High School.
She hasn’t been a star in any of the sports she’s tried so far, including volleyball, softball, track and bowling, but she enjoys learning new things and playing with her peers.
“I just like doing the sports. I just like trying them,” said Smith, 15. “I’ve never done golf. I don’t know if I’m good at it. I’m not even good at mini golf. (What matters is) to be part of the team, to be included.”
That’s why a new Iowa transgender athlete ban signed into law March 3 is so painful. Because the law prohibits biological boys from competing on girls teams, Gavy, born as Gavin, is limited to being the manager of the girls golf team rather than a player.
Gavy and her mom, Tiffany Smith, went Feb. 10 to Des Moines to speak at an Iowa House Education subcommittee meeting against the ban. It was the first time Gavy talked publicly about transgender rights.
“Since it’s something I really believe in and something that truly hits home with me, I knew it was something I should do,” she said.
Going public has put Gavy in a spotlight that makes her mom proud, but nervous.
“I should probably just not look at the comments people make because they are just very hurtful,” Smith said about online comments on the topic. We’re just trying to humanize this a little bit more. For some people who haven’t seen it, it may be an odd thing and hard to grasp. We’re hoping if Gavy gets out there and they see her, it will open up people’s hearts and minds a little more.”
“We just have to keep using our voices,” Gavy added.
Gavy is like many other teen girls. She wears small silver earrings, a hoodie and her long brown hair in a ponytail. She works in the produce department at Fareway. A perfect evening at home would include sushi and “Gilmore Girls.” Gavy has two brothers — one older and one younger — and gets along with her parents most of the time.
By third grade, Gavy felt like she was different from the boys she knew. Most of her friends were girls, she didn’t play with the same toys as her brothers and one day she decided to wear a dress to school.
“They contacted my mom and asked questions,” Gavy said.
Smith picked up the story.
“When they called me, they wanted to meet to talk about what they’d seen and get a feel for how things were at home, what direction we were going and how to continue on,” she said. “They were really good to work with. It was nice.”
When Gavy went to middle school, she started using the girls locker room to change clothes for gym and sports. Until a parent complained. Then the school asked Gavy to change in the nurse’s office, which continued for a year until she was allowed to go back to the locker room, Gavy said.
“The girls were a little bit more supportive,” she said. “Already before that most of my friends were girls. They did have questions and stuff. I do remember sometimes they (boys) were not as supportive and I did get bullied sometimes.”
The argument for prohibiting trans girls from competing on girls’ teams is they will take away starting spots, medals and scholarships from biological girls, who generally aren’t as big and strong as boys.
A speaker at the Feb. 10 legislative meeting cited news reports about Lia Thomas, a transgender woman breaking records as part of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team. Thomas competed as a male swimmer before undergoing hormone treatment as part of her transition, the Washington Post reported.
Gavy said her situation is the “complete opposite … because I’ve never been the best on the team. Ever since I started volleyball I’ve always been on a lower team. I don’t say it’s because I’m transgender and they want to put me on a lower team. I just think I’m not that good to be put on a higher team.”
House File 2416 requires any Iowa schools that get public funding to designate sports programs as one of the following: open to biological females, open to biological males or coeducational.
The law, which passed with only Republican support and was signed into law by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, went into effect immediately. It spells out that only female students, based on their sex — which may be verified on birth certificates — may participate in any “team, sport or athletic event” designated for girls or women. It does not have the same requirement for boys.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association, which governs boys’ sports at the high school and middle school levels, will continue to allow girls to compete on boys’ teams if there is not a girls’ team of that sport.
“We do not believe the law prohibits this,” Association Executive Director Tom Keating said.
As far as schools designating sports as co-ed to avoid the trans athlete ban, Keating has not heard of districts considering this. The state’s only sanctioned co-ed competitions now are the state golf and state tennis meets.
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union did not respond to attempts by The Gazette to seek comment about how schools and students are being affected by the new law.
Gavy and Tiffany Smith don’t know exactly what comes next. Gavy has started golf practice, meeting with the team in the yard of her coach, Scott Pierce, until the golf courses open for the season.
“I have a large yard with a target green we can hit to as well as a sand trap that I dug in many years ago,” Pierce said in an email. “I have a hitting mat and hitting net that the kids can utilize and I built a raised putting platform as well a number of years back.”
Gavy is welcome as team manager, which Pierce thinks is in line with the new law.
“She can participate fully in all practices with the meets being a different situation,” he said. “She can be a part of our team.”
Becky Smith, who is executive director of the LGBTQ youth advocacy organization Iowa Safe Schools, told reporters March 3 she thinks the new state law violates federal law that prohibits gender discrimination.
Tiffany Smith said she plans to talk with a lawyer at the ACLU of Iowa, but “nothing (is) certain.”
“I don’t have a lot of information about what step we’re going to do next, but we’re not done,” she said. “We’re not going to stop and take this.”
“Once we’ve started, we won’t be stopped,” Gavy added.
A new transgender athlete ban signed into law March 3 prohibits biological boys from competing on girls teams. Gavy Smith, a Decorah High School freshman born as Gavin, now is limited to being the manager of the girls golf team rather than a player.