Transgender Women in High School Sports
Social reform is on the rise in the U.S. and more people feel free to express their true identities every day. However, the right of transgender women to participate in high school sports is an issue at the forefront of the national stage right now. Transgender women – women who were born male but identify as female – are slowly gaining a voice. This new age, showing hope for many, has also caused a landslide of policy issues and political tension.
According to TransAthlete, currently, 16 states – including California, New York, and DC – have friendly policies regarding transgender women playing high school sports. In 14 states there are policies set where transgender women must verify their identity via invasive steps, such as medical exams and disclosures of hormone therapies. Eleven states – including Texas, Georgia, and Indiana – have discriminatory policies that create obstacles for transgender women to participate. Mississippi, for example, has completely banned transgender women from sports in schools and universities, with Governor Reeves tweeting, “I proudly signed the Mississippi Fairness Act to ensure young girls are not forced to compete against biological males.”
According to a New York Times article, many people have pushed back at this, including 500 student-athletes who wrote a letter to the NCAA asking them not to hold any championships in states which do not comply with transgender rights. In Texas, similar laws are held, with student-athletes having to present a birth certificate to compete in sports. According to Houston LGBTQ+ Family Law Attorneys, students will then be required to compete on the gender team in accordance with the sex assigned to them at birth. The other 10 states – including Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Michigan – have no policy on the matter.
Since Title IX passed in 1972, legally closing the gap between male and female equality in the U.S, there has been a steep incline in female participation in high school sports, surging from 7% in 1970 to 43% today, states The Conversation. Originally, sports teams were co-ed, but in 1979, new legislation was passed to improve equality and participation by creating separate teams for men and women in the education program. Today, as personal freedoms of expression are expanding, transgender athletes are representing a new population that some aren’t welcoming. Due to their underrepresentation in sports, they also have less of a voice compared to majority groups. According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign, transgender females make up only 12% of the 68% of students who play school sports. Title IX has been meant to increase equality, provisioning separate teams, and equal opportunities for men and women. Some, like Idaho Representative Barbara Ehardt, believe allowing transgender women in female sports would negate the 50 years of progress since Title IX, as it would damage cisgender female athletes’ chances of positions and scholarships in sports.
According to Title IX, schools must verify the gender of students in order to allow them to be protected. If a school doesn’t accept the gender of their student, the student is then susceptible to whatever rules the school has in place in terms of sex disparities, such as locker room and bathroom use, as there are no federal overarching policies that protect students everywhere.
Though transgender rights have grown enormously in recent generations, inequalities are still prevalent. “Bathroom bills," as they are called, prohibit using a bathroom that doesn’t align with one’s birth-given sex. This law stops transgender people from using the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify. One defense for this was to protect the safety and privacy of those using the bathroom, in case a sexual predator were to trespass into the opposite gender’s bathroom under the guise of being transgender. However, there has been no evidence to support this.
According to Deseret News, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) stated, “When transgender athletes compete against women, women’s sports are no longer women’s sports; they become unisex athletic events… This bill would protect the opportunity of girls throughout America to athletically compete against other girls… This is not about being transphobic or having anything against [a] transgender person. This is a simple question of fairness and physical safety.”
However, there is support for transgender women participating in school sports as well. Charlotte Clymer, an LGBTQ social rights advocate and a transgender woman herself, told The Hill, “What this is is the latest iteration of Republicans trying to figure out how to exploit the lack of information on trans people for their political benefit, political benefit of Republicans on the ballot.”
During President Trump’s term, he made no official orders regarding transgender participation in sports, though his administration did vocally back up an Idaho law, banning transgender women from participating in women’s sports back in June 2020. The Trump administration also backed up an unsuccessful lawsuit against Connecticut when they pushed to allow transgender women in sports. When President Biden entered office, he put out the Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation which said “It is the policy of my Administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Lee and other Republican senators refuted the President’s order, according to The Guardian, this executive order did not change any legislation, but rather pushed federal agencies to mandate provisions to secure transgender participation in sports.
A global player in this dispute is the Olympics organization. The Olympics has in recent years contended with the issue of female eligibility in sports. A notable case occurred in 2009 when Caster Semenya, a South African woman, won a gold medal in the 800-meter dash. Though both her sex and gender are female, she has been questioned due to her physical qualities appearing less feminine. Since then, the international governing agency for track and field has tried to require some female Olympic athletes to submit hormonal evaluations. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) even set standards in November 2018, with limits on the amount of testosterone allowed in an athlete’s blood to make her eligible to compete. This idea has not been enforced in any U.S. states, though it has been discussed.
States and social rights groups, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, and the You Can Play project continue to dispute the issue, with decisions molding the country’s future one court case at a time.