The Human Rights Campaign has announced its partnership with women’s sports advocate Kelsey Trainor. The t-shirt made popular by Trainor will now amplify its message for the LGBTQ+ community. The slogan “Invest in women. Pay women. Hire Women’ can be found at sporting events around the world. From the sidelines with South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley to center court in New Zealand, the message resonates with the world. While sports were the hook, Trainor has always seen her motto as a way to address deeper systemic and social issues.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Kelsey about her latest collaboration and what she hopes it means for the ongoing fight to protect trans girls and women in sports.
“Invest – pay higher has started in sports, but sports is a microcosm of society. So it felt like a really organic way to spread that message while you’re in the sports arena, but also reach a wider audience,” Trainor said in a phone conversation last week.
Her move to partner with the Human Rights Campaign was intentional, given the rise in legislation across the United States deemed harmful to transgender people.
“The Human Rights Campaign is thrilled to be part of this partnership for Women’s History Month—it is of the utmost importance that we invest in women in all aspects of society as we work toward liberation for all—without exception. Let me make one thing clear: trans women are women, trans girls are girls,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson shared with me in an emailed statement about the release.
“Girls and women are being attacked and politicians and the media are targeting the most vulnerable in our community. The axis of attack on trans girls and trans women in sports is yet another front in the anti-LGBTQ+ agenda – and it’s discriminatory. All transgender athletes deserve to play freely and safely in sports,” Chantel Mattiola, co-founder of HRC Women LEAD, shared with me via email.
“Kelsey’s message — Invest in Women — is at the core of HRC Women LEAD’s mission. HRC Women LEAD is an ongoing initiative focused on engaging and empowering equality-minded and non-binary women in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality.”
To that end, that partnership will include activations to educate voters about current laws and campaign support for what Mattiola called pro-women and non-binary candidates. Trainor believes the partnership will involve the sports community and other influential people in this critical work.
“I would love to bring more athlete voices to HRC in the work they do, Trainor said. “Whether it’s fighting the LGBTQ plus community, fighting legislation across the country from bans on gender-affirming health care, forced coming out — right now, the legislation in Tennessee banning drag shows, making it one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ states in the country – The huge goal is to bring noise and intensity to this fight.”
I asked Kelsey if she was concerned that her brand’s past popularity has created concerns for her or others that people who have endorsed her merchandise in the past won’t be ready or willing to join her in the trans rights crossover.
“No, not one bit,” Trainor said. She received advice to explain, or for some to justify, her new collaboration and conscious choice to uplift and include trans women. However, this was not too difficult.’
“Here I stand, this represents my merchandise and this message. And that was that it wasn’t hard, Trainor told me. However, in hindsight, she realized she could have been more clear about her stance earlier.
“Perhaps, naively, I thought it was a given, but apparently not. When you’re presented with something that shows you that maybe it’s not a given, it’s not obvious, it’s not fully inclusive, absolutely fix it. Make sure it’s known,” she said, reflecting on her partnership and pivot to explicitly include trans women in her movement.
Trainor joins athletes like Layshia Clarendon (he/she/her/they/them), currently playing their first season at Athletes Unlimited Basketball in Dallas, as active advocates for transgender rights in sports and society.
In the fall, Clarendon, who is the WNBA’s first openly non-binary and transgender player, told me she had concerns about playing professionally in a state where trans rights and women’s rights are under the law. When I attended, he told me that playing in Dallas is a revolutionary act.
“There’s always a big debate about whether or not to play in these states. And finally I look at it — I’m not going to let you down now — but like a big FU to all the people who think I shouldn’t play sports or belong in sports or my uterus should have any rights,” Clarendon said. during a conference call with Athletes Unlimited last month.
“We know there are a lot of laws that I think really don’t align with AU values, from what I understand. And let this kind of be one of our great protests to say that we are here. We are queer. And we’re not going anywhere.”
Clarendon has been active with the WNBA, including a campaign to oust former Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler, paving the way for former WNBA champion Renee Montgomery to join the new ownership group. Trainor finds the WNBA a model of what’s possible at the intersection of sports and politics.
So what does this mean for transgender rights in the United States? Or even transgender policies in sports?
Trainor wants to see more people in politics, sports or otherwise embrace having meaningful conversations about change.
“The WNBA, to me, is at least the league that’s willing to have the tough conversations, and that’s what needs to be done,” Trainor said.
“Policies can always be improved to be more comprehensive. There’s just no ifs or buts to it. Again, the W(NBA), at least the women of the W(NBA), don’t shy away from these conversations.”
The updated t-shirt design features Trainor’s popular Invest-Pay-Hare message across the front. The iconic HRC equality logo with Trainor’s signature below is on the back. The design is available in dark blue as well as black with pink and blue accents, representing the colors of the trans flag. The partnership is live now on the Human Right Campaign website.
Trainor and the Human Rights Campaign expect to announce different ways to get involved in the ongoing advocacy of LGBTQ+ people.