Teen Transgender Athlete Helps Revise League Policy

High school freshman Bobby Jones wanted to play on the soccer team that reflects his gender identity. His family and community set out to revise a league policy to create affirming opportunities for kids.

With the support of his family and community, Bobby Jones helped revise a policy to allow trans athletes to play on teams that match their gender identity.

High school freshman Bobby Jones of the Seattle, Washington area has been playing soccer since he was 2 years old. In 2019 when he was 12, Bobby came out as transgender and asked his parents if he could switch to the team that matched his gender identity—the boys' team. His team, Titans FC, was immediately supportive but the greater soccer league, the Puget Sound Premiere League, had a policy stating all players must play on the same team as their birth-designated sex (a policy that contradicts that of the United States Soccer Federation which supports players being on teams that match their gender identity).

While Bobby wasn't the first transgender player to come up against the policy—another player quit the team in the face of the rule—he knew statistically he wouldn't be the last. The league has 60 clubs each with many teams, "that's thousands of players." On a national level, 10 states have legislation in the works to ban transgender athletes from playing on the team that matches their gender identity. Adamant about paving the way for future transgender teens, Bobby appealed to the PSPL to revise the policy to allow players to join teams matching their gender identity. "I wanted to make sure that all kids had the opportunity to enjoy soccer, playing as their true selves and really just have a great experience with sports," he says.

Bobby Jones playing soccer

Family Support for the Win

Jones's family was all in on helping him bring change to the league.

"Hearing our son be able to articulate that to us so clearly and so strongly, we knew that this was a path that we were going to travel through the end and see it to fruition," says Eleanor Jones, Bobby's mother, a third-grade teacher. Bobby's parents and his brother, seventh-grader Hudson, knew the importance of family love and support in the face of adversity. Inspired by Bobby's initiative, the whole family rallied around the goal of revising the league's policy and getting Bobby on the boys' team. "The four of us came together over the dinner table," says Eleanor. "Whatever it takes, we're going to work towards it."

The Importance of a Supportive Community

Bobby is a Champion for the GenderCool Project and participated in the organization's Play it Out campaign to increase education about transgender kids and their connection to sports. Locally, his team's leadership supported his right to play. "The coach's perspective is 'I have a kid who wants to play and I want to coach this kid' and that was pretty much it," says Bobby's father, Dakota. "That made all the difference for us."

Bolstered by their community's support, the Jones family worked to get Bobby's story out to the wider public. Since there was a pandemic, "we had to get creative with spreading the message," says Eleanor. They took to social media to appeal for support and spent their weekends canvassing neighborhoods, handing out #LETBOBBYPLAY yard signs and masks to people from as far away as Illinois. Their hope was to serve as an example for other families and communities fighting for the rights of transgender athletes all over the country. The hashtag caught the eye of local media whose coverage of Bobby's story landed on the ears of Brad Evans, former captain of the Seattle Sounders who lent his support to the cause.

What's Best for Kids

Eleanor describes the meeting in which the league's policy team discussed the revisions necessary to protect the rights of transgender athletes like Bobby as being a moment of synergy. "Everything we were talking about and saying and thinking over, in my heart as a mother and in my heart as an educator, I knew that it was what was best for kids...It feels amazing because you know you're on the side of right and truth and what needs to be done…That good work was being done." On November 2, 2020, the PSPL revised the policy allowing kids to play on the team that matches their gender identity.

An Unbreakable Bond

On his 14th birthday, Bobby played goalie for the boys' team and the Titans won the game 2-0. "It was a really fun day…I was really excited to be able to play on my team as my true self," says Bobby. Eleanor describes the triumph as an emotional one. "Knowing that we were sending him onto the field in a space where he did feel supported and affirmed and welcomed and needed and wanted, that for us as parents made us feel really good."

Above all, Bobby's parents are proud of him for taking this stand, "for being willing to be so visible." They also feel immense relief that this will be one less challenge he'll have to deal with in an already difficult plight as a transgender teen. Though not an easy road, the Jones family agrees they are better for having traveled it together, to effect a positive change not just for Bobby but for other transgender athletes in their area and beyond. Dakota says, "Going through it together, it created a bond that is beyond strong, so we'll have that forever."

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