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Why this 14-year-old activist is fighting for the rights of transgender athletes

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Lawmakers in more than 28 states have proposed legislation to ban transgender athletes from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity at the youth, high school and collegiate level. In New Jersey, where trans athletes have protections, 14-year-old Rebekah Bruesehoff is fighting for the rights of transgender kids — while attending school and playing on her field hockey team. Here’s her story, as told to CBS News’ Zoe Christen Jones. 

There are so many things that make me, me. Some are my smile, my laugh, and the way I care about things. I’m 14 years old, and my mom says she loves the way I’m full of joy. I’m also a total nerd and a straight-A student. I play clarinet in the band, love to write and one of my favorite things to do is play field hockey. I’m also transgender but that’s just one part of who I am.  

I’ve been playing field hockey since I was 10 years old. When I was younger, I kind of avoided sports. I tried to compete in gymnastics, but it felt so wrong doing the parallel bars with the boys while I watched the girls on the balance beam. I tried soccer, but again, I didn’t want to play on the boys’ team. I knew I was a girl, but the people around me didn’t know that yet. Every boys’ team I tried, I knew that I didn’t belong there. 

Rebekah Bruesehoff
Rebekah playing field hockey.

Jamie Bruesehoff

But in fourth grade, after I transitioned, my town held a field hockey clinic and my mom suggested I try it. When I stepped out on that field, I instantly fell in love. The sport itself was fun, full of speed and excitement and hitting a ball with a stick! Who doesn’t love that? But way more important than that, I was finally a girl playing on a girls team and it felt amazing — I was exactly where I was supposed to be. 

Field hockey plays a huge and active role in making my life better and gives me so much: confidence, strength, and a place to belong. For me, it’s not just my sport, it’s my community. 

One of the hardest things field hockey has helped me through was my family’s move. We moved during the middle of the summer, and because of COVID-19 restrictions, I didn’t get to say goodbye to many of my friends. If moving schools is hard enough, just imagine doing it in the middle of a pandemic. School was totally virtual, my friends were miles away from me and I was so lonely. But then field hockey started, and even with masks and distancing and precautions, I had this thing in my life that felt normal. 

At tryouts, I was so nervous about making the team, but practice by practice, I got to know my teammates and eventually made new friends. I worked really hard to keep up, this new team was really, really good, and I realized that field hockey is something I’ll always have. No matter where I live, or where I go to school, I know I can walk onto a field hockey field and find my people and have a place where I belong. And if I feel like that, I know there are plenty of transgender kids just like me, who just want a way to belong.

Rebekah’s viral photo at a rally.

Jamie Bruesehoff

When I was 10 years old, I spoke at a rally after the Trump administration tried to take away protections for transgender students in schools. My hair was pink and I held up a sign that said, “I’m the scary transgender person the media warned you about.” The photo went viral and suddenly I had a platform. Now, I’m using my voice, my story, my childhood, to make sure that every transgender kid can be heard. 

I think one of the biggest things people need to know is that we’re just like every other athlete. In several states, like New Jersey, there have been policies in place for over a decade that allow transgender athletes to compete in the sports they love. We just want to play like everybody else. When I’m on the field, nobody can tell that I’m the “trans kid.” I’m just like every other player. 

Rebekah Bruesehoff
Rebekah with her mother Jamie Bruesehoff.

Jamie Bruesehoff

I know what it’s like to have my gender questioned, to have to prove I’m a girl. It’s invasive and embarrassing. I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through that. To me, playing sports means getting to be a part of something bigger than myself. I can remember the day I scored my first goal. We had been playing for a long afternoon, we were all tired, and the game was incredibly close. I swung my stick hard and the ball soared into the goal, changing the outcome of the entire game. I did that for my team! Every time I’ve stepped onto a field since I feel powerful and capable of anything. 

Playing field hockey shows me how hard work and perseverance can help you make a real-time difference — on the field and in the world. That feels really good, and it translates to everything I do in life. But it’s hard to see such hate towards transgender kids all the time. Trans kids just want to be kids for as long as we can. Why can’t people let us?

Rebekah Bruesehoff
Rebekah with her hockey equipment.

Jamie Bruesehoff


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