It turns that there has been at least one instance of a transgender person competing in athletics in Arkansas, though none was cited as the legislature passed anti-transgender legislation.
NBC Sports tells the story of Nikki Hiltz, a champion middle-distance runner for the Arkansas Razorbacks who completed a college career in 2018, turned pro and now competes on the world stage.
The 2019 season marked a breakthrough in my career. I felt confident and it showed in my results: I PR’d in the 1500m four times and represented the U.S. at the 2019 World Championships.
But ahead of one race, I remember hearing the announcer say, ‘Women’s 1500 meters, first call,’ and having to remind myself, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me.’
The playing field can be a very gendered place. While everyone – regardless of their profession – is navigating a binary world, sports are built on that binary.
For that reason, I found myself starting to resent my sport. I felt like track was forcing me into a gender identity that didn’t feel representative. But I also didn’t feel like I had another option, other than waiting for my career to end so I could come out and be open about my gender identity.
Last year, when the world shut down and I couldn’t compete, I had a lot more time for self-discovery.
Over the summer, I held a virtual 5k to raise money for the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth.
And four runners used the race to come out.
Those four runners made me realize that this is an event I want to host every year. So ahead of this year’s virtual 5k – (Mark your calendars for July 17!) – I recorded podcast episodes with each of them.
After the very first conversation, I realized I was ready to share my truth.
I finally had the context and language to tell the rest of the world, ‘Hi I’m Nikki and I’m transgender.’
Being transgender means my gender identity doesn’t align with the sex I was assigned at birth.
The best way I can explain my gender is as fluid. Sometimes I wake up feeling like a powerful queen and other days I wake up feeling as if I’m just a guy being a dude, and other times I identify outside of the gender binary entirely.
Right now, they/them pronouns feel the most affirming to me.
And just to clear up a few misconceptions: While some trans people do have gender-affirming surgery, that’s not what makes you trans. Identifying as trans just means that your gender identity doesn’t align with the sex you were assigned at birth.
In other words: I’m not changing who I am, I’m just showing up as myself. This is who I’ve been my entire life.
Coming out as trans wasn’t my first experience with coming out.
In 2017, I came out about my sexuality. Gay marriage had just been legalized two years earlier, and while homophobia certainly persists today, being gay was generally accepted.
But coming out as trans in 2021? The world is a really scary place for trans people right now
“20 years after I wished I would wake up a boy. I wished that by my next birthday, I would be ready to come out and live openly as trans.”
— Nikki Hiltz (@Nikki_Hiltz) April 30, 2021
The as-told-to article then delves into the Arkansas legislature’s recent spate of anti-transgender legislation.
Last week – despite pleas from doctors, social workers, and the trans community – the Arkansas state legislature passed HB 1570, a bill that makes it illegal for trans youth to receive gender-affirming health care.
I imagine what I would have felt like had this law passed in 2016, when I first arrived at Arkansas. For two years, I represented a state that I now wouldn’t feel safe visiting.
That’s actually a big part of the reason I decided to come out. Because the issue isn’t trans people, but transphobia.
I’m a firm believer that visibility and vulnerability are essential to creating inclusive spaces.
I’d offer Robin Lundstrum, Leslie Rutledge, and Missy Irvin, to name three, as evidence to the contrary given the wrenching testimony as they legislated discrimination against transgender children over pleas from transgender people, their parents and medical professionals.
The NCAA has rules on transgender competition (it’s allowed, but with rules, which include for women at least a year of testosterone suppression treatment.) But the story raises the question of how to know when the rules should be enforced. I’ve inquired what Arkansas knew, if anything, about Nikki Hiltz’s story and its reaction now that it’s gone public