SALINAS, Calif. — She was a college athlete and is hoping to continue her sports career, but now, Abby Molina worries other young transgender women won’t get a chance to compete in the sports they love.
Seven states have passed laws this year that ban transgender girls and women from participating in high school and college sports.
More than a dozen other states have introduced similar bills, and it’s ignited a tough conversation of who should and shouldn’t be allowed to play on a team.
Abby Molina is training for her college’s basketball tryouts. She is planning to finish up her degree beginning this upcoming school year, and being back on the court feels like being home.
“I started off myself playing flag football, basketball, softball, track. Those were just like my escapes,” said Molina.
The youngest of five siblings, Molina learned her love for the game from her brothers. But from a young age, she wanted to be more like her sisters. She loved wearing her sister's sweaters and clothes.
Those around her began to notice, too.
“The coach told my brother they were cutting me because I was too girly to play,” recounted Molina.
Abby was born male, but she didn’t want to be. She says the day that realization clicked in her mind is burned into her brain.
“My brother just looked at me and he asked me, ‘Do you want to be a boy or a girl?’ And I just stayed quiet. And in that moment, he just knew,” she said.
In that moment, she did, too.
Molina’s identity and her desire to transition weren’t easy for her deeply religious family to accept. Her parents took her to a priest when she was 14 years old.
“And in front of me, he said, ‘You have to accept your child because your child is your daughter, and if you don't accept him as your daughter, then you're not going to have a child at all. You will lose this person from your life,’” said Molina of the priest’s words.
“Thanks to him, I have been able to be the person that I am,” she said.
She found acceptance as she transitioned through high school, even though some students were not so kind.
“I got to repress my puberty, and I grew up a girl,” she said.
But that happiness was interrupted when she joined the women’s college basketball team after graduating high school. She said one of the girls on the team told the coach she was transgender.
“That coach approached me the following practice and just asked, ‘Abigail, are you transgender?’ In front of everybody!” said Molina. “I told her I am transgender, and she said, ‘Well, you have to be on hormones for at least two years.’ Well, I've been at the time on them for like 10, maybe 12. And then she's like, ‘Well, do you have a vagina?’ I looked her in the eye and I said, 'Would you like to see it?' And she just was shocked."
After that, they allowed her on the court.
“I look and fit the part of the female, you know, biologically. How absurd would it be for me to play with men if I've undergone these things?"
Her teammates became her biggest support.
“It made me feel better about myself because I had all these other girls behind me cheering me on, playing with me, and embracing me with open arms,” she said.
But states across the country are banning transgender female athletes from participating in school sports, with Minnesota attempting to make it a petty misdemeanor for trans women to play on girl’s teams. Seven states (Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi) have already banned transgender women from competing. Supporters say it keeps sports fair for biologically born females.
"For somebody who hasn't been taking hormone replacement therapy, that's where the conversation strikes," Molina agrees. "And it becomes controversial because, you know, biologically, physically, you know, these people do have somewhat of an advantage."
Many supporters of the bans want scholarships and team spots to go to biologically born women, which Molina agrees is a consideration to be weighed heavily, but overall, she believes there is a way for everyone to play fairly.
"I think that's when we really need to take into consideration, you know, your hormones, you know, whether or not you've been transitioning and you've been repressing the testosterone," said Molina.
The solution may not be simple, but she hopes in the end, acceptance wins because the consequences of exclusion are a burden too heavy to carry.
"You're telling these transgender people that they are only good for one aspect in life, not for an education, not to be part of a sport, not to grow with other peers," said Molina.
This burden is one she hopes to help lift off other people's shoulders, so one day, all athletes can find fulfillment on the field.
"We deserve our right to participate regardless of whatever sport activity it is. We are here to stay," she said.
Molina said speaking up for transgender women to play sports is only the start of her advocacy. She is also a model and is competing in a modeling competition supporting transgender role models in communities across the country, and through that, she hopes to help promote acceptance and togetherness for all.