Schuyler Bailar was the first trans athlete to compete in the NCAA. Now he wants to stop bills that ban trans children from sports.

·4 min read

By the time Schuyler Bailar got to high school, he was one of the nation’s top 20 15-year-old breast strokers. By 17, he set a national age-group record.

His hard work paid off when he was accepted to join the Harvard swim team in 2013, but before he started his freshman year, Bailar chose to address some ongoing health issues.

“I began struggling with an eating disorder halfway through my high school career, so I went to a rehab center for my eating disorder, which was my number one struggle,” Bailar tells Yahoo Life. “And that was really the space that I was able to find, to figure out that I’m transgender.”

Assigned female at birth, Bailar had been accepted to the women’s swim team. As he began to imagine a new reality, he also had to grapple with possibly losing the chance to compete in the sport he loved.

“I’m an athlete, and if I transitioned I would lose the women’s team. But when it became more clear that I wanted to transition, that I was going to go through medical steps in my transition, that I wanted to go by he/him/his pronouns, my coach Steph was like, ‘What about the men’s team?’”

“It took a little time to really take that risk for myself and my happiness," says Bailar. 

Ultimately, Bailar decided to take the leap. And after a gap year, he became the first transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team.

NCAA Division I swimmer Schuyler Bailar (Photo: Sydney Claire Photography)
NCAA Division I swimmer Schuyler Bailar (Photo: Sydney Claire Photography)

Now 25, Bailar uses his social platforms to raise awareness about trans issues. One topic that has been making national headlines is the debate over trans children playing sports. Currently, more than 30 state legislatures have bills designed to ban trans girls and women from playing women’s athletics. Bailar believes these bills are harmful to the wellbeing of trans children.

“When these bills attack these kids, it says, ‘You don’t belong here, ” says Bailar

“I get goosebumps in a bad way, in a sad way and sort of teary when I think about it, because a lot of trans kids don’t have the support from their parents, don’t have the support from their teachers, or their friends. So for the government to add on to that, ‘oh by the way, you also don’t belong in sports,' it’s a massive massive message to these kids that they don’t belong.

On June 1, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that bans transgender girls and women from competing on female sports teams at the high school and college level. The law also states that sports teams made up of men or boys may be open to female students. In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice signed a law that prohibits trans girls and women from competing in women’s sports at any public secondary school or college.

For Bailar, the argument that transgender athletes should not be able to compete with cisgender athletes is misguided. “None of these bills are talking about professional sports. None of them are talking about Olympics. None of them are talking about any elite level sport,” says Bailar.

“In all elite level sports there are already rules and regulations about trans people and our hormones. So I had to submit labs to take testosterone as a trans man, to prove that my testosterone levels were at a fair level," he says.

On top of being excluded from sports, Bailar warns of the invasive methods that school officials would use to identify the sex of student athletes. “In order to do that, you have to test everyone. And some of these bill are proposing genital tests for children. To me, that’s pedophilic, that’s so privacy violating,” says Bailar.

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June is Pride Month, a time to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising and the continued fight for equality. For allies, it's a time to listen, learn and take action. Bailar says that a meaningful first step in showing solidarity could be for non-trans people to publicly post their pronouns. 

"I think a lot of people forget that if you’re not trans, you also have pronouns," says Bailar. "Once you share your pronouns, you’re gonna create a safer space for trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary folks to share our pronouns, too." 

Additionally, Bailar suggests going to his website to learn more about the 144 trans bills in the United States that target sports and access to healthcare. 

"I want to be very clear to all the trans kids that you do belong here, you do belong in sports, you do belong in healthcare, and the government is wrong. But a kid doesn’t know that and it’s devastating to me," he says. "It’s absolutely devastating to me."

Produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

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