A Haines teenager was likely the first transgender student to compete at a statewide high school athletic competition. Nattaphon Wangyot was born male, but has identified as female since she was about five years old. Her participation in last weekend’s track meet in Anchorage drew a lot of attention, both positive and negative. KHNS’s Emily Files talked to the 18-year-old Haines High graduate.
Wangyot goes by the nickname ‘Ice.’ Her mother, Tukta Panyawong, says the nickname comes from when she was pregnant with Ice, back in Thailand, and she used to chew on ice cubes.
Panyawong says the nickname fits, especially in the aftermath of the track meet. She says her daughter has been cool under pressure.
“You know, if some people say bad to you and you do bad to them, it’s not going to end easy,” Ice said. “So if they say bad to you, just smile at them and let it go.”
There’s a lot Ice has to let go. She’s been reading comments from news stories about the track competition. Some are supportive and positive, but Ice says others are ‘hateful.’ But, she says, the hateful comments make her stronger.
“Some hateful people make me stronger and stronger. So I want to say ‘thank you’ for everybody.”
It isn’t just online commentators who have a problem with Ice competing against other girls. On Friday, the conservative Christian group Alaska Family Action held a press conference.
“It is not fair and it is not right for our female athletes, and we have a responsibility to protect our girls,” said Stephanie Leigh Golmon Williams, as reported by KTVA.
The group said male-to-female transgender students have an advantage over biologically female athletes. Ice disagrees. She says she takes medication that suppresses male hormones and increases female hormones.
Alaska Family Action was protesting the Alaska School Activities Association’s recently adopted policy on transgender athletes. The policy lets local schools decide whether transgender students can compete according to the gender they identify with.
“The bigger gist of how this policy was developed is ASAA feels that schools are in the best position of dealing with individual students and know which individual students consistently identify with a different gender and can apply that better than we can, thousands of miles away from the actual student,” said ASAA director Billy Strickland.
“Yeah, we’re not gonna discriminate based on gender identity. That’s the just the long and the short of it,” said Haines School District Interim Superintendent Rich Carlson.
Ice moved to Haines from Thailand in 2014. But she didn’t start participating in sports until this year, her senior year. That kicked the district into action. The school board added gender identity to its non-discrimination policy and it updated administrative guidelines. Now the district’s stance is that transgender students can compete in sports according to the gender they consistently identify with.
KHNS: “The Haines School District is part of Alaska history now.”
Carlson: “We are. We are. I don’t think we ever set out to be that, but we are. And I feel pretty good about how we handled this.”
Carlson was expecting some push-back to Ice competing at the state track meet. But when he heard about the press conference protesting the transgender policy, Carlson got on a plane to Anchorage.
“I wanted to be there, frankly, to protect Ice,” he said.
Ice says in all her races, her coaches tell her to ignore everything and just focus on running.
“You should focus on the track, what you gonna do right now. Ignore how I’m hurt, how in pain. So I should focus on the running.”
Now, she’s trying to ignore the negative reactions to her involvement in the track meet and focus on the support she’s gotten. And she wants to share that message with people in similar situations.
“Just to be yourself. It’s your life. Nobody can control that. We have freedom. Everybody can talk everything bad to you, but just ignore it. Sometimes it’s so hard to do that, but it’s gonna be cool and really good in the future of your life.”
Ice ended up placing in both the events she competed in. She won third place in the small schools’ women’s 200-meter sprint, and fifth place in the 100-meter race.