Transgender Bans on Sports

In the United States, during the 2021 legislative session, 34 states are considering prohibiting transgender girls from participating in interscholastic sports teams. Joining Idaho as the first to do so in 2020, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and South Dakota have also passed prohibitions and enacted the bans into law. Soon after, in Florida, lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in high school and college sports “designated for females, women, or girls,” using what critics have defined as “shady, backroom tactics” to tie it to unrelated charter school legislation.

Over time, sports have become a focal point for transgender equality debates. On one hand, supporters of these regulations have argued that such laws are required because transgender female athletes have physical advantages, but on another, academics who have looked into the problem claim that any possible benefit isn’t a justification to exclude transgender women from competing. Simultaneously, Idaho lawmakers have also argued that allowing transgender athletes to compete on girls’ and women’s teams would undo nearly 50 years of progress made by women since the 1972 federal legislation credited with allowing female athletes to participate in sports. Many opposed to the ban, conversely, has cited the same federal civil rights statute, Title IX, which forbids sex-based discrimination. For instance, according to Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, stated, “Ultimately, this is a law that harms all women and girls,” striving to prevent the law from taking effect.

GOP senators seek to ban transgender girls from female sports
According to the bill leader of the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., schools that allow “biological males” to compete in girls athletics could lose federal funding. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Critics believe that the current anti-transgender regulations go against Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which guarantees federal civil rights and ensures that all people have access to resources that are gender-equal and nondiscriminatory. Some organizations, such as the National Organization for Women, suggested that gradually moving toward sex-integrated sports would best counter the sexist assumption that women cannot compete with men. With this being the case for the vast majority of sports teams likewise, a large number of academics and activists argue that completely gender-segregated teams continue to deny girls and women access to the most high-profile and well-funded athletic opportunities. 

Further disputes have risen after Judge Andrew Kleinfeld stated, “They’re not barred. Anybody can play on the boys’ team whether they’re transgender or not.” In response to this, Chase Strangio stated how the United States District Court for the District of Idaho found that forcing a trans girl to play on a boys’ team “is not feasible,” citing expert testimony from Dr. Jack Turban, a Stanford University child and adolescent psychiatry fellow, and testimony from Hecox.

Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon (7) identifies as transgender and nonbinary. (Credit: Mike Carlson/AP Photo)

Sex-segregated sports teams mean that the abilities of males and females are determined by a set, biologically defined gender binary. With more young people declaring themselves to be transgender, nonbinary, or genderqueer, lawmakers in many states are scrutinizing and identifying who “belongs” on girls’ and women’s teams. Moreover, while 68 percent of young people engage in organized sports, just 12 percent of transgender girls do, according to a 2017 Human Rights Campaign Foundation survey. As a result, transgender students are less likely to reap the benefits of athletic participation, which include enhanced academic performance, improved physical and mental wellbeing, positive and life-changing social relations, and other benefits that aid in the development of stable and fulfilling lives.

Such anti-transgender laws have met opposition by the population, especially young people. In fact, Truman Hamburger, a 17-year-old high school student in North Dakota, stated “Once you open up that door on gender policing, that’s not a door you can easily shut,” showing up at the statehouse to protest a proposed ban. Recent state laws have prompted lawsuits, which are now making their way through the courts. Even so, amidst the global crisis of the pandemic and the current catastrophes occurring throughout the entire world that are paramount to be addressed, these policies aren’t prioritizing what should be prioritized today. 


Feature Image: Brendan McDermid/REUTERS

Tiana Thwin

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