Andraya Yearwood has heard her name ring through state legislatures, political debates, and lawsuits since she was a teenager. Now 20 years old, the Atlanta-born college sophomore and her friend Terry Miller, both Black transgender women and former high school track stars, became unlikely activists.
Yearwood has received national attention for her sports career since she joined her high school team. That spotlight came to a head in 2019 when three cisgender runners filed a lawsuit against Connecticut’s Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The suit, which focused on Yearwood and Miller, challenged the athletic conference’s policy that allows trans student athletes to play sports on teams that match their gender identity. The lawsuit was dismissed after Yearwood and Miller graduated.
In February, Georgia state Sen. Marty Harbin mentioned Yearwood and the lawsuit when he introduced legislation to ban trans youth from participating on sports teams in public schools, saying he wanted to level the playing field for girls. Advocates for trans youth fear that this legislation could have lasting negative impacts on students’ mental and physical health, whether they’re athletes or not.
Capital B Atlanta spoke to Yearwood about her experiences as a trans student athlete, being the focus of legislation in Georgia, and wanting more representation in politics. The interview is edited for clarity and length.
Capital B Atlanta: When you first heard about the lawsuit in 2019, what was going through your mind?
My first reaction went from, “Wow, it’s really a lawsuit,” to being tired and over it. We were already going through this freshman year, sophomore year. I was just over it.
Going into school the next day, I remember my athletic director took me out in the hallway and spoke with me to see where my head was at, how I was feeling about it. They were very encouraging words. We both came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to let it get to me, especially because I had a [track] meet that day. Throughout that day, I was trying not to really focus on it, but really trying to focus on my race, so I could get a good place in my race. I think it affected me more than I anticipated. Because in my event, I false started, and I wasn’t able to run [because] I got disqualified.
I think it was constantly in the back of my mind. I was thinking, “Wow, they went to these lengths to get us out of the sport, to erase our records.”
A Georgia lawmaker used your story when he introduced a bill to ban trans youth from school sports. How do you feel about lawmakers in other states using your story to make their case?
I think I feel two ways about it. I think on one end of the spectrum, I feel like there’s more awareness of trans athletes in sports. And I’m glad it’s getting talked about. It’s not in the context that I would like it to be talked about, but I’m glad it’s bringing more awareness to the situation. Hopefully, with our stories being brought to the legislature, and even in the media, that will hopefully produce outcomes that will just bring more awareness to trans athletes, the needs that we require, and just basic human rights that I believe everyone should have.
What do you think is driving lawmakers to pass this kind of legislation?
I just think they’re kind of uneducated. First of all, I think a lot of the decisions that are made about trans people don’t include trans people. I feel like I haven’t really seen a lot of representation of trans people within the legislatures. Rules are being made about trans people by cisgender people; to me, that doesn’t really make sense. Bring more trans people in the room when you’re making decisions about trans people.
I wish they knew that this is more than just sports to the trans people. To a lot of kids, it’s more than just winning a medal. For kids, sports are a way to escape their reality, escape school, and escape home. To take that away from them just because of how they identify, it’s just not fair.
How do you think you would have handled being told you don’t deserve to be on the girls team, that you should compete with the boys?
One thing I would look into is the laws and do my best to get in touch with those who have gone through the same thing as me, or who have had this kind of experience. [I would] talk to them and see what I could do to bring about more awareness. I don’t think I would just sit back.
How much of being a Black trans athlete affects your thinking on this argument?
I saw something in a Twitter post about Terry and I, where they brought a lot of attention to our muscles, and our body physique. They were only focusing on Terry and my body structure and muscle strength. My mom made a point that there’s a history of society targeting Black women, trying to masculinize them more. I really think it does play a part. It kind of helped me [understand] how we are viewed within our society.
In the documentary, Changing the Game, you showed some apprehension to call yourself an activist, but now you’re studying political science.
I want to go into humanitarian aid and social service and helping, specifically, the LGBTQ+ community within American countries, and Central American countries. [I want to] help them get the resources that they need, whether it be housing, medical aid, or health care.
What do you want people to take away from your and Terry’s story?
I think I just want to reiterate the fact that [there should be] more trans representation in all spaces. I think as we get more representation, we will become more aware of better outcomes for the trans community.
I hope people take action in their own communities. Make sure that people are addressing people with the correct pronouns, or if they say something ignorant about trans [people], making sure you correct them about why they shouldn’t say that. Just do your part in helping the trans community.