High school sports documentary shows importance of transgender inclusion

In the groundbreaking documentary "Changing the Game" an athlete named Sarah Rose Huckman states a basic truth.

"Being transgender is not a choice,” said Huckman. “From the very beginning, I knew I was a girl.”

Huckman, a teen skier from New Hampshire, enjoys hanging out with her friends and posting makeup tutorials on YouTube. While the powerful and emotional documentary examines the more than 100 transgender state bills introduced in 2021 alone, all aimed to restrict the human rights of people like Huckman, the film goes beyond ideology  when it shows the humanity of the athletes themselves.

The documentary will make its streaming debut on HULU on Tuesday at the start of Pride Month. "Changing the Game," by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Michael Barnett, explores the intricate lives of three transgender high school athletes and how their fight for acceptance goes far beyond their sports. 

The obstacles transgender youth face have grown over the past decade. One survey in 2020 said over 40 percent of transgender youth seriously considered suicide, only 27% of transgender youth say their families are supportive and only 8% of transgender youth say their place of worship is very accepting.

A Black transgender female student is five times more likely to be murdered than her peers and according to a survey by GLSEN, 75% of transgender youth (age 0-17) feel unsafe at school and less likely to continue their education beyond high school.

School athletics are often a safe space for students as they navigate into young adulthood. However, with numerous discriminatory and anti-transgender legislation popping up all across the country, that safe space is shrinking.

“Someone like Sarah who just likes to ski and likes to teach it, may not be winning gold medals but that's not why she's doing it,” Alex Schmider, one of the film’s producers, told USA TODAY Sports. “That's not why most of these students are participating in sports. They're doing it for the life-saving aspects of being a part of the community, like learning how to win and learning how to lose. Some are finding out what it means to dedicate yourself and have discipline and be able to trust and be in teams with other people.”

Although hard-working and talented at Nordic skiing, Huckman says she often finds herself withholding her full ability in fear that others will discredit her wins against other female skiers because she was an assigned male at birth. 

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