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The Roller Rebels Are Fighting a Trans Ban in Long Island’s Nassau County

The Long Island Roller Rebels with NYCLU Attorneys
The Long Island Roller Rebels with NYCLU attorneys, Gabriella Larios and Bobby Hodgson.
By: Gabriella Larios Staff Attorney, Legal

Nassau County on Long Island has been relentless in its efforts to shut transgender women and girls out of sports—but one team is fighting back to ensure that all people can experience the transformative power of sports.

The Long Island Roller Rebels have spent nearly two decades building a close-knit skating community in Nassau County as part of Long Island’s first flat track roller derby league. Amidst an increasingly hostile environment for LGBTQ+ people nationwide, the league believes in fostering a safe space for transgender, intersex, and gender-expansive women to compete. Now, the Roller Rebels’ ability to grow and thrive in their community is being threatened by Nassau County’s attempts to deny transgender women and girls equal access to public facilities.

In February, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman issued an executive order that categorically barred trans women and girls from playing women’s and girls’ sports at county-run facilities. The sweeping order applied to over 100 different athletic facilities and affected a wide range of people, from school-aged athletes using county facilities to recreational adult groups. Under the order, the Roller Rebels were barred from using Nassau County athletic facilities because they are a league that welcomes transgender women.

The Roller Rebels quickly banded together and took Blakeman to court with the NYCLU’s help — and they won. They refused to be punished by this policy that excluded them from venues where they would otherwise play and practice just because they believe in inclusion and fight against transphobia.

In May, a Nassau County Supreme Court judge struck down the executive order, finding that Blakeman did not have authority to issue the order. That decision is a victory for those who believe that transgender people have the right to participate in sports just like everyone else.

From the start, the Roller Rebels have been unwavering in their belief that transgender people belong in athletics. The roller derby community is unlike any other sports community. Derby has a rich history of being a haven for queer and trans people who had previously felt like they did not belong in sports growing up. For almost a decade, the sport’s international governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, has had inclusive policies that explicitly welcome trans women, intersex, and gender-expansive women to play on women’s teams.

The Roller Rebels know this fight is about so much more than just one league. As parents and community members, the Roller Rebels are fighting to ensure their kids and peers can join a sports team and feel welcome participating, no matter what. Trans youth are more likely to experience negative mental health effects when faced with exclusionary policies like trans sports bans, making it all the more important to challenge them.

The Roller Rebels know this fight is about so much more than just one league.

The Roller Rebels are fighting to ensure that everyone is able to find the same joy they do from playing sports. The love the Roller Rebels have for the sport of roller derby, and more importantly, for each other is evident from the way they show up for each other.

The Roller Rebels have jam-packed lives outside of the rink—they work full time jobs, go to school, take care of kids and pets, participate in their communities, and so much more. But they come together, week after week, to practice and play, even if they don’t always win. Derby fuels them, and building strong bonds with their teammates makes it all worth it.

This is what sports should be about—challenging yourself to work harder, learning to communicate with your peers, and finding joy through movement. Lawmakers are trying to deprive people of these benefits by enacting trans sports bans and sending the message that trans people do not belong in their communities.

The Nassau ban doesn’t just impact trans people, it hurts all women and girls who play sports. To ban trans girls from girls’ sports teams, officials would have to make invasive inquiries about cis girls’ and trans girls’ bodies and gender identities alike and intrude on their privacy and bodily autonomy.

Still, Nassau County officials show little sign of backing down. Even though they have already lost in court once, the Nassau County Legislature is now trying to pass a trans athlete ban through the county legislature – during Pride month no less. This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to shut trans people out of public life while peddling dangerous stereotypes about transgender women and girls. That is unacceptable in New York, and it won’t stand.

It is abundantly clear that any attempt to ban trans women and girls from sports is prohibited by New York State’s antidiscrimination laws. In 2019, the New York State Human Rights Law and Civil Rights Law were amended to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity following passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. If the Nassau County legislature continues to push forward on such harmful legislation, the NYCLU will see them in court.

The fight continues. In the meantime, the Roller Rebels will keep being a beacon for trans, intersex, and gender-expansive women in Nassau County.

Join members of the NYCLU’s Nassau County regional office as well as other community members and advocates on June 24 at 11:30 a.m. at a rally urging lawmakers to vote no on the trans ban legislation.

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