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Day of sports and camaraderie in Cambridge park protests exclusion of transgender athletes

Gillan Campbell, 18, pitches during a kickball match at the Let Trans Athletes Play event in Mayor Danehy Park Sunday afternoon.Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE — Kickball, face painting, and cornhole toss marked the morning games at a Sunday sporting event in North Cambridge staged to bring LGBTQ+ youth and their allies together to protest the growing number of states seeking to ban transgender students from competing in school sports — and to have some fun while doing it.

Forget hurdles, timed heats, and qualifying rounds, the afternoon line up at Mayor Thomas W. Danehy Park included frisbee, softball, and relay races, as well as chess, jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, and Connect Four. A water fight brought the day to a close in the late afternoon.

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The idea was to provide a little something for everyone at Let Trans Athletes Play, a day of sports, games, and protest, said organizer Esmee Silverman, 19.

“We really just want to build a community,” Silverman said, near the edge of the baseball diamond turned kickball field. “We just want people to play sports with their friends, honestly. We wanted to build community and protest the anti transgender bills.”

But there was a message to be heard, as well.

During opening remarks, Silverman told those gathered: “We are under attack. Bill after bill has been signed trying to chip away at our lives.”

No more, “transgender kids under attack,” she said. Instead, make it “transgender kids fighting back. Not under attack, fighting back!”

Esmée Silverman, 19, at the Let Trans Athletes Play event she organized on Sunday afternoon at Mayor Danehy Park. Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

Aside from providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth to play, organizers also sought to “send a loud and clear message that transgender athletes are welcome, valid, and loved.”

Transgender youth make up 1.8 percent of high school students, according to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control report.

At least two dozen states are seeking to ban transgender students from competing in girls teams in middle schools, high schools, and in college, according to the ACLU.

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President Biden on his first day in office signed an executive order banning discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.

Sunday’s turnout was far from the hundreds advertised and hoped for, but the dozens who showed, were not short on spirit. Mini-pride flags jutted from ponytails on the kickball diamond. Volunteers and players wore T-shirts that said “Kick away the hate. Let Trans Athletes Play.”

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui’s office helped sponsor the event, along with the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, the Cambridge LGBTQ+ Commission, Fenway Health, and GLSEN Massachusetts.

“We have to fight back,” Siddiqui said during opening remarks. “We have to use our voices to raise awareness and combat this hatred.”

State Representative Steve Owens brought his wife and two children to the event. One of his sons joined in on kickball, while Owens learned about local legislation regarding inclusive LGBTQ+ curriculum.

“I am educating myself thanks to the youth here,” Owens said. “So, activism works.”

Nikei “Kitty” Davies, 18, said they came to provide support and to help out at the information table.

“I’m not really a sports person,” Davies said.

“I really believe in standing up for what I believe is right,” said Davies, their dark hair topped by pastel pink, plush kitty-cat ears. “And attending these sorts of events can help make the world right.

Munching on muffins after coming off the kickball field, J.J. McCain and Daisy Lyons, both 16, and from Millis, said they had fun on the field.

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“It’s a very supportive community; the LGBTQ community is always a very supportive community,” McCain said. “It’s amazing to be around people who are similar to me.”

Lyons said it was the second time she’d played kickball since middle school, and “it was definitely more fun this time.”

“Just ‘Let Trans Athletes Play’ is what I say,” Lyons said. “Which is also the name of the event. It’s very original.”


Rosie Grady (center), 15, laughs with friends at the Let Trans Athletes Play event in Mayor Danehy Park Sunday.Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

Silverman, the organizer, told those gathered that she had fond memories playing lacrosse, tennis, and basketball with supportive teams, forming bonds that carried “beyond the lines of a sports field.”

“Being able to play with people who affirm and support your decisions, that’s something that everyone should be able to experience,” Silverman said.


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.