The following is testimony by Lily Williams, a former high school track athlete, given before the PA House Education Committee last session in support of a bill to protect girls sports. She was a rally speaker at PA stops for the “Take Back Title IX” nationwide bus tour.

Good morning. My name is Lily Williams, and I am here to share with you my experience on the Hempfield Track and Field Team this past year.

I have been a member of the Hempfield Cross Country and Track Team for the past 4 years. This past year, I had the privilege of being the captain of both the girls cross country team and the girls track team. I remember the first week of track this year like it was yesterday. Excitement filled the air after a canceled season last year due to COVID.   

The first two days of track were very successful, but the third day, we showed up for practice and a boy was there warming up and practicing with us. We knew this boy, as he was a member of the boys cross country team in the fall. At first, we didn’t think much of it, because we figured that if the boy were going to be joining the girls team, surely someone in a higher position would have informed us first. Sadly, we were mistaken.

This boy showed up to practice every day and continued to run with us, and no one ever said a word to us about it. We were all definitely confused, but we figured in time someone in authority would say or do something to explain to us why he was running against girls in practice.  

Eventually, after hearing rumors in school, we discovered that this boy was now identifying himself as a girl, and because he had changed his gender identity, he was now allowed to be in our locker rooms and compete with us during races. This upset many of the girls on my team.

As captain, I felt called to talk to my coach on behalf of my team. I stressed to him that the locker room situation made many of the girls feel uncomfortable and that he should not be allowed in when we are changing. My coach explained that he was not allowed to talk about the issue with me.

As the season progressed, dealing with the issue of a male who identifies as a girl slowly got harder. None of us understood what was happening. Many of us have heard about this issue happening in other places, but we were all very shocked when it happened at Hempfield. I guess we thought maybe someone would have talked to us about it or asked us how we felt and if we were okay, but that never happened. And then when we tried to talk to our coaches and principals, they didn’t offer much support or help. It felt like our thoughts and feelings were being shut down.   

I don’t want my words to reflect negatively on my principal or coaches because I respect and love everything they have done for me through the years, but I think I can speak for many of the members on my team when I say we all felt pretty abandoned this year, and it really hurt.

But let me be clear: I genuinely love and care for this teammate no matter how they identify. Throughout the whole season, I went out of my way to talk to this individual in the hopes of forming a friendship. I know this has been a hard time for them, too. I can’t imagine going through something like this.

I may disagree with the ideology behind this issue, but that in no way means I can’t love and care for an individual just because we share different opinions. However, it does not justify the discrimination that the girls had to carry this year on the Hempfield Track Team.

It was hard for me every day knowing that the girls I care about most left practice frustrated and upset, because no matter how hard they worked, they would never be as fast as a biological boy. Countless times I held them in my arms because they felt alone, like no one cared about their problems.

Everyone knows that biologically, boys have a physical advantage over girls, an advantage that doesn’t go away by identifying as another gender, whether it be transgender, pangender, demigender, or all the other numerous gender identities people adhere to. We don’t have separate teams for every identity because what we believe about gender isn’t relevant to sports. We have them because there are two sexes. In fact, advantages like this don’t go away even if a boy were to take female hormones.

There are ways to support everyone. The boys on the track team are perfectly capable of accepting a boy who identifies as a girl or as any other gender identity on their team, as they did in the fall this past school year during cross country when this same individual ran on the boys team.

If bullying or any unkind behavior were to occur, then there are ways to deal with that. Hempfield has never accepted behavior like that on any team, and if that were to happen, those boys should be dealt with. But ignoring the girls while our rights to privacy and fairness in competition are being violated shouldn’t be acceptable either, but that’s exactly what happened this year. It happened at the high school in the bathrooms and it happened on the girls track team.

We deserve to be able to use the bathrooms without members of the opposite sex present, making us feel scared and extremely uncomfortable. My privacy and the privacy of all girls does not spring into existence or cease to exist merely based on what a male believes about his gender. Our privacy rights start at the door of the locker room and are not contingent on whether a male in the   room has intentions to harm us or not. Girls should not be told that in order to be kind or supportive to any male that we have to change in front of them.

We have been told that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of people who identify as a gender identity different from their sex. I actually agree with that, and I have really tried to do that. In fact, I’m committed to ensuring that every girl, even if they identify as a boy or something else, is welcomed and treated well on the girls team. But I ask you to put yourself in our shoes as well. I don’t understand why there seems to be so little care about what this is doing to the emotional well-being of the girls.

There are ways for schools to meet the needs of all students without allowing the violation of our rights to privacy and fair competition. Any biological girl, no matter what they believe about gender, is more than welcome on our girls team, and any biological boy, no matter how they identify, is welcome on the boys team. That preserves fairness and opportunities for everyone.

Last month, I asked the Hempfield School Board to please not push this issue down the road and make more girls next year go through what we had to go through this year. By doing nothing, you are actually making a decision to allow the girls in your State to continue to suffer unfair discrimination. By doing nothing, you are choosing to care for one group of students over all of the female students in the State. It might make everyone feel better to deny this, but this is a fact.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent a law last month limiting girls sports at public schools to biological girls. This is what he said, and I quote: “Just let me say very clearly that in Florida, we’re going to do what’s right. We’ll stand up to corporations; they’re not going to dictate the policies of this state. We’ll stand up to groups like the NCAA who think they should be able to dictate the policies of different states. We won’t be cowed. We will stand strong. If the price of that is we lose an event or two, I would choose to protect our young girls every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” end quote.

It’s been hard to speak out on this issue. Some of the girls on my team have had death threats made against them, and many of them are now scared to speak. We need support from a higher power than our school board. I’m asking you not to be afraid of the possible repercussions you might face and instead focus on the difference you can make for your female students all over the State and even the country.  

I know that this is a tough issue for you to take a stand on, but you, like me, have been given an opportunity to make a difference. Please don’t be afraid. I asked my school board at Hempfield and now I’m asking you, will you please take a stand to protect the girls that are under your care in the State of Pennsylvania?