Transgender high school senior Alex Trujillo was heartbroken when she found out that she wouldn't be able to play on her high school girls' volleyball team during the upcoming season.
Initially, everything seemed fine. She had gotten the OK to play from Laguna-Acoma's principal and volleyball coach, and began to train for the season. But a few days into conditioning, Trujillo was told that the school had checked with the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA), the organization that governs high school sports in the state, and was told that she wouldn't be allowed on the team.
By their rules, the gender stated on an individual's birth certificate determines which team he or she can play for. And Trujillo's says male. She was left devastated.
“I just cried. It may not seem like a big deal, but it made me feel like I was less than my peers, that I didn’t have the same rights and the same privileges," she said. "And it really hurt knowing that I was still seen as a male in the state’s eyes.”
Trujillo, a 17-year-old at Laguna-Acoma High School, transitioned from male to female during the summer between 9th and 10th grade and started playing volleyball last year with friends. She says she quickly developed a passion for the game.
Alex Trujillo puts makeup on inside her New Mexico home.
Under NMAA rule, the only way Trujillo can play for the girls' volleyball team is if she gets an amended birth certificate. In New Mexico, a person can only have the listed gender on his or her birth certificate altered if reassignment surgery is completed.
"It seems to me that a piece of paper is holding her back right now, and I think there’s a blind spot here," Josh Bryan Sanders, Director of External Engagement for GO! Athletes, a support organization for LGBT athletics, told The Huffington Post.
"There’s some ignorance [on the part of the New Mexico Activities Association] — not in an attacking way, but there’s education that needs to take place," Sanders continued. "I don’t think Alex will have an unfair advantage. She should be able to play the sport that she loves."
The Transgender Law & Policy Institute's guidelines for trans child athletes recommends permitting them to play in their affirmed gender, as it can "provide an enormous boost to their self-confidence and self-esteem and provide them with positive experiences that will help them in all other areas of their lives."
Anything less than complete acceptance can cause "lifelong harm," the institute notes -- such harm cannot be tolerated, especially when the trans community is at such a heightened risk for suicide.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey published in 2014 found that 41 percent of its 6,456 participants across all 50 states had attempted suicide -- over 25 times the estimated national average of 1.6 percent. The same survey found that approximately 50 percent of trans people who had been bullied at school attempted suicide.
Grants-Cibola County Schools Superintendent Marc Space could not be reached for comment on Friday and NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez declined to comment. But the group provided this statement to ABC News for a segment published on Thursday:
The NMAA is a membership-led organization. Member schools have an active voice and vote in establishing all rules and regulations in regards to interscholastic activities and athletics.
Alex's mother, Terri Trujillo, has started a trans support group in the area to help advocate for change at Laguna-Acoma.
"We have a high-rate of suicide in our community, and the majority of these students are members of the LGBT community," Terri said. "I used to think we were alone ... but ... people have been more accepting. We've gotten a lot of support."
After gaining inspiration from Caitlyn Jenner's moving ESPYS speech on Wednesday night, Alex is determined to continue her struggle for the opportunity to play.
"It was so inspirational and I'm really glad she's finally becoming who she is," she told ABC News.
"One thing she said about ... thousands of transgender youth are coming out and finding themselves, and that really spoke to me," Alex added. "And also because she was an athlete, and she has this huge platform, and she's not just being selfish about it. She's actually doing stuff, and she spoke about others in her acceptance speech, and I love that."
In Jenner's speech, she stressed the importance of letting transgender athletes play sports "as who they really are." That resonated with Trujillo, who told the Cibola Beacon that her fight for the right to play is greater than just her individual case.
"I don’t only want to do this just for myself," she said. "I want change to come for others after me."
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