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Missouri dad’s testimony against transgender sports ban goes viral: ‘Let them have their childhoods’

Brandon Boulware on March 3 testified in front of the Missouri House of Representatives, urging lawmakers against a proposed transgender sports ban in schools. (Video: The Washington Post)

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For years, Brandon Boulware forced his child to wear boys’ clothes, get short haircuts and play on boys’ sports teams. She was “absolutely miserable,” the attorney told the Missouri legislature earlier this month.

That all changed when Boulware allowed his transgender daughter to wear the clothes she felt most comfortable in, grow her hair out and play on girls’ sports teams.

In an emotional plea, Boulware urged lawmakers not to pass a bill that would force his daughter to quit her volleyball team, dance squad and tennis team by forcing students to play on teams based on the sex listed on their birth certificates.

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“I ask you, please don’t take that away from my daughter, or the countless others like her who are out there,” the father of four told legislators on March 3. “Let them have their childhoods, let them be who they are. I ask you to vote against this legislation.”

Boulware’s testimony has gone viral this week after the American Civil Liberties Union shared it on Twitter, garnering more than 7 million views as of early Thursday and becoming a touchstone moment in a national battle over transgender students in athletics.

More than 20 states are debating whether transgender youth and collegiate athletes should be allowed to play in girls’ sports or granted access to medical care, and at least two governors have already signed the rules into law. Most recently, the Kansas Senate passed a similar bill on Wednesday.

GOP lawmakers who have pushed the legislation argue that transgender athletes have a biological advantage over their peers, a justification that parents like Boulware have strongly disputed. Although there is not sufficient data on the issue, advocates say young transgender athletes face obstacles that affect their athletic performance, such as discrimination, trauma and gender dysphoria, The Washington Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Samantha Schmidt reported.

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This is the second time Boulware, a business lawyer and the son of a Methodist minister, has testified on the issue before Missouri lawmakers. Boulware opposed a similar bill at a public committee hearing in February 2020. That bill did not advance in the House.

So when Boulware learned that a similar bill was again working its way through the House earlier this month, he decided he needed to testify again on behalf of transgender children, he told The Washington Post.

“I thought it was important. I took the testimony that I gave last year and revised it,” said Boulware, 45. “I really just spoke from my heart.”

On March 3, Boulware came to the House with a written speech he barely had to reference. During the years when Boulware ignored the advice of teachers and therapists by forbidding his daughter to act as a girl, he told lawmakers, she was a shadow of who she is today.

“My child was miserable. I cannot overstate that,” Boulware said. “Especially at school. No confidence, no friends, no laughter. I can honestly say this: I had a child who did not smile.”

It took one particular incident for Boulware to understand that his child identified as a girl, he told lawmakers. Years before, Boulware’s daughter had put on one of her older sister’s dresses and asked if she could go play with neighbors.

When Boulware told her no because it was time for dinner, his daughter’s response shook him: “She asked me, if she went inside and put on boy clothes, could she then go across the street and play? And it’s then that it hit me. My daughter was equating being good with being someone else. I was teaching her to deny who she is.”

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From that day on, Boulware said, he and his wife never asked their daughter to act as a boy again.

“The moment we allowed my daughter to be who she is, to grow her hair, to wear the clothes she wanted to wear, she was a different child,” Boulware added. “It was a total transformation. I now have a confident, a smiling, a happy daughter.”

Rep. Chuck Basye (R), the bill’s sponsor, has argued that the legislation would support the athletic careers of cisgender girls and protect them from missing future athletic opportunities.

“Women or young girls, ladies, in that matter, after they work hard in a competitive sport ... then lose that opportunity to go on to the next level to get a college scholarship,” Basye told KTVI.

But Boulware said the bill’s proponents falsely argue that transgender athletes who play on girls’ teams have an advantage over their biological female peers.

“That is not really the situation,” Boulware told The Post, noting that many transgender children are undergoing hormone therapy that reduces the amount of testosterone in their bodies. “What these people are trying to do is score cheap political points at the cost of kids.”

Boulware said he was shocked at how viral his testimony went this week and was overwhelmed with positive feedback. He hopes his transparency about his own experience as a parent might sway lawmakers in Missouri and elsewhere.

“I thought if I explained to the legislators that I did make these mistakes maybe they would be more open to hearing what I had to say,” Boulware said. “I wanted them to understand that I wasn’t coming from a place of being perfect or correct on the issue from Day One because I wasn’t. My hope was that they could see the ability and the opportunity to grow, to evolve and to learn from the transgender experience.”