Coach Scott Pierce gives freshman Gavy Smith some tips for his swing during an indoor practice Thursday at Carrie Lee Elementary in Decorah. After a ban on transgender student-athletes was signed into Iowa law earlier this year, Coach Pierce suggested making Gavy director of golf to allow him to participate in practices and be part of of the team. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Decorah freshman Gavy Smith hits the ball Thursday during an indoor practice with the girls and boys golf teams from Carrie Lee Elementary School in Decorah. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Decorah freshman Gavy Smith smiles Thursday as she works on hitting soft shots during indoor practice with the Carrie Lee Elementary girls’ golf teams at Decorah. Gavy is one of five freshmen on the team, out of a total of six players this year. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Freshmen Gavy Smith and fellow freshmen Elora Schnitzler, left, and freshmen Shelby Hageman, right, watch their coach Scott Pierce demonstrate a short kick during practice on Thursday golf course at Carrie Lee Elementary in Decorah. Gavy plays five sports and says she enjoys participating in multiple sports to learn new things and play with her peers. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
After finishing indoor practice on Thursday, Decorah freshman Gavy Smith laughs with freshman teammate Sophia Fahey at Carrie Lee Elementary in Decorah. As a transgender athlete, Gavy is not allowed under a new Iowa law to play with the team during games. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
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 field and bowling, but she enjoys learning new things and playing with her peers .
“I just like to play sports. I just like to try them,” said Smith, 15. “I have never played 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 ban on Iowa’s transgender athletes enacted on 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 his mother, Tiffany Smith, traveled to Des Moines on Feb. 10 to speak at an Iowa House education subcommittee meeting against the ban. It was the first time Gavy had spoken publicly about transgender rights.
“Since it’s something I really believe in and something that really touches me, I knew it was something I had to do,” she said.
Going public has put Gavy in the spotlight which makes her mother proud, but nervous.
“I should probably not look at people’s comments because they’re just so hurtful,” Smith said of online comments on the subject. We’re just trying to humanize it a bit more. For some people who haven’t seen it, this can be a strange and difficult thing to grasp. We hope that if Gavy comes out and they see her, it will open people’s hearts and minds a little more.
“We just have to keep using our voices,” Gavy added.
Find your identity
Gavy is like many other teenage girls. She wears small silver earrings, a hoodie, and her long brown hair tied in a ponytail. She works in the product department of Fareway. A perfect evening at home would include sushi and “Gilmore Girls”. Gavy has two brothers – an older and a younger one – and mostly gets along with his parents.
In third year, Gavy felt 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 reached out to my mom and asked questions,” Gavy said.
Smith took over the story.
“When they called me, they wanted to meet to talk about what they had seen and to get an idea of the situation at home, where we were going and how to continue,” he said. she stated. “It was really good to work with them. It was nice.”
When Gavy went to college, she started using the girls’ locker room to change clothes for the gym and sports. Until a parent files a complaint. Then the school asked Gavy to change in the nurse’s office, which took a year until she was allowed to return to the locker room, Gavy said.
“The girls were a little more supportive,” she said. “Already before that, most of my friends were girls. They had questions and stuff. I remember sometimes they (the boys) weren’t so supportive and sometimes I was bullied.
The argument for banning trans girls from competing on girls’ teams is that they will take away starting spots, medals and scholarships from biological girls, who are generally not as tall and strong as boys.
A speaker at the February 10 legislative meeting cited reports about Lia Thomas, a record-breaking transgender woman as part of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team. Thomas competed as a swimmer before undergoing hormone therapy as part of his transition, the Washington Post reported.
Gavy said her situation was “quite the opposite…because I’ve never been the best on the team. Since I started volleyball, I have always been on a lower team. I’m not saying it’s because I’m transgender and they want to put me on an inferior team. I just think I’m not so good at being placed in a top team.
House file 2416 requires all schools in Iowa that receive public funding to designate athletic programs as one of the following: open to biological females, open to biological males, or coeducational.
The law, which passed with sole Republican support and was signed into law by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, went into effect immediately. It clarifies that only female students, based on their gender – which can be verified on birth certificates – can participate in any “team, sporting or athletic event” for girls or women. He does not have the same requirement for boys.
the Iowa High School Athletic Associationwhich governs men’s sports at the high school and college levels, will continue to allow girls to compete on boys’ teams if there is no girls’ team in that sport.
“We don’t think the law prohibits that,” said the association’s executive director, Tom Keating.
As for schools designating sports as co-ed to avoid banning trans athletes, Keating hasn’t heard of any districts considering this. The only state-sanctioned mixed competitions are now state golf and tennis meets.
the Iowa Women’s High School Athletic Union did not respond to attempts by The Gazette to seek comment on how schools and students are affected by the new law.
Gavy and Tiffany Smith aren’t sure exactly what’s next. Gavy began practicing golf, meeting the team in the backyard of his coach, Scott Pierce, until the golf courses opened for the season.
“I have a large yard with a target green that we can hit as well as a sand trap that I dug many years ago,” Pierce said in an email. “I have a hitting mat and hitting net for the kids to use and also built an elevated putting platform several years ago.”
Gavy is welcome as a team leader, which Pierce says is in line with the new law.
“She can participate fully in all practices, with competitions being a different situation,” he said. “She can be part of our team.”
Becky Smith, executive director of LGBTQ youth advocacy organization Iowa Safe Schoolstold reporters on March 3 that she believes the new state law violates federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.
Tiffany Smith said she plans to speak with a lawyer at ACLU of Iowabut “nothing (is) certain”.
“I don’t have a lot of information on the next step we’re going to take, but we’re not done,” she said. “We’re not going to stop and take that.”
“Once we start, we won’t be stopped,” Gavy added.
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