Blog Post 42: How Do Our Current Policies Actually Help Transgender Student Athletes?

How Do Our Current Policies Actually Help Transgender Student Athletes?

By Kara Simmons

Luckily, the world we currently live in is becoming more aware and accepting of transgender issues. But what do the newest policies geared toward protecting the transgender community mean for transgender student athletes? In April 2014, the Federal Office of Civil Rights sent out a letter stating that Title IX includes discrimination against transgender students in schools.[1] For those who are not familiar, “Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded program or activity.”[2] The International Olympic Committee (IOC) created a policy in 2004 to address the issue of competition eligibility for transgender athletes.[3] The policy requires genital reconstructive surgery, which is a clear violation of privacy and seems even more intrusive when forced upon younger athletes.[4] There are numerous reasons a transgender adult would not have already decided to go through the pains of reconstructive surgery, none of which impact a person’s desire to continue playing sports. Undergoing such surgery is a big decision. Some may choose not to undergo surgery because they are comfortable knowing who they are with the anatomy they were born with. It is not a choice taken lightly. And it is a choice that should not be forced upon someone simply because she wants to play a sport.

Though those policies for Olympic athletes might make sense to some, they definitely should not be required for high school students.[5] Our bodies are constantly changing as we get older, and we are all maturing both physically and emotionally at different rates. High school students are already faced with the daily pressures of “fitting in,” but it is even harder for a transgender student. There are plenty of students that join athletics and in fact schools should encourage maximum participation, but for many transgender students, they face extreme pressures and harassment. For example, before California had policies governing transgender student athletes, Toni Bias made the difficult decision to quit basketball.[6] Toni was a star on her high school junior varsity team when she came out as transgender, started transitioning to male, and started going by Tony.[7] Tony quickly became the target of bullies, was often called “he-she,” and ended up quitting basketball for fear of even more severe abuse if he tried out for the boys’ team.[8] Tony was only 16 years old when he had to give up a sport he loved because of bullies and discrimination.[9]

According to a survey of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, 36 states (including D.C.) have policies concerning transgender student athletes.[10] States that had completely inclusive policies generally allow students to participate on teams of the student’s birth gender or the gender the student has transitioned to.[11] However, the survey further showed that only 16 had completely inclusive policies, while 14 had policies that needed to be modified.[12] Overall, some states need to modify their policies because they only allow students to play on teams of the gender the student has transitioned to instead of offering both options to students.[13] Sadly, there were six states that had discriminatory policies.[14] Those states include Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, New Mexico, and North Carolina.[15] All of their policies only allowed a student to participate on a team based on the gender indicated on his or her birth certificate.[16]

High school is where we learn, we experience, and we grow. Transgender students should be offered the same opportunities both on and off the field as all other students. Many of those who oppose the integration of transgender athletes onto teams that match their gender identity argue that it would create “gender related advantages.”[17] They are concerned that transgender girls are not “real girls” and are “really boys” who would give some teams an unfair advantage over teams comprised of only girls.[18] This is ludicrous. Transgender girls are real girls. They live their lives as girls and only want to play sports with other girls. Additionally, there is plenty of disparity amongst teams made up from “real girls.” Girls can be short, tall, strong, not as strong (girls are not weak), or any number of differences. Allowing transgender students to play on teams with other students who match their gender identity would not create unfair advantages.[19]

The authors of the Transgender Student Athlete Report suggest the following:

  1. Create policies proactively so students feel free and comfortable to be themselves. It is also better for the school to have a policy in place before it becomes an issue.
  2. We need a single national policy to ensure uniformity and make it an easier transition for students going to college, where the policies might be slightly more strict.
  3. MAXIMIZE inclusiveness. Schools are responsible for promoting goals such as “participation, inclusion, and equal opportunity.”
  4. Create a safe, fun space free from discrimination. Schools have faced the issue of discrimination over and over again, so it is no surprise that they should provide an educational environment free from discrimination.
  5. Provide educational resources to school administrators, coaches, parents, and students. [20]

It is important for schools to establish a policy as soon as possible to promote inclusiveness. The Report also outlines a policy that makes sports reasonably accessible to transgender students.[21] Students are asked to notify the school that they wish to participate on a sports team of the gender not identified on his or her birth certificate. This would then allow the school to give proper notice to the state athletics association.[22] The authors of the Report recognize that schools would probably require students to show they have put thought into this decision, mostly through doctor confirmation.[23] That would mean the student would have to prove she has spoken with a doctor and/or psychologist about her decision.[24] Although I find this to be an intrusion into the student’s personal life, I do understand the need for schools to confirm that the student is getting the proper help and advice while making such an important life transition. But that is not the main reason a school would want that confirmation. Generally, people who oppose transgender students playing on a team of the gender not on her birth certificate, do so because they fear providing an unfair competitive advantage.[25] Specifically, some are concerned males will pretend to be transgender to play in women’s sports in order to have a more competitive edge.[26] But let’s stop to think about this logically. How likely is it that a teenaged boy will pretend to be a girl just to play on a girls’ team? I think that is highly unlikely.

Although there are policies in place that ideally show an inclusive atmosphere for high school students, until we as a society teach everyone that being transgender doesn’t make you lesser or any less “real,” we will still face discrimination. High schools around the nation have the ability and a duty to make sure all students receive equal opportunity to participate in activities in order for all students to become the best they can be. And as long as our schools teach and promote inclusiveness, we have a much brighter future ahead for transgender students, and all students. Many students begin participating in sports at a really young age. If we teach our youth to embrace people for who they are and include them in such an important aspect of our culture, transgender students are less likely to give up on their athletic ambitions, as Tony Bias had to, in order to avoid abuse and discrimination.

[1] Pat Griffin, Developing Policies for Transgender Students on High School Teams, National Federation of State High School Associations (Sept. 8, 2015), http://www.nfhs.org/articles/developing-policies-for-transgender-students-on-high-school-teams/.

[2] Department of Justice, Overview of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C.A. § 1681 et. seq. (last updated Aug. 7, 2015), http://www.justice.gov/crt/overview-title-ix-education-amendments-1972-20-usc-1681-et-seq; 20 U.S.C.S. § 1681 (2015).

[3] Helen J. Carroll and Pat Griffin, On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes, National Center for Lesbian Rights 1, 21 (Oct. 4, 2010), http://www.nclrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/TransgenderStudentAthleteReport.pdf.

[4] Id.

[5] See id.; NCAA Office of Inclusion, NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes, National Collegiate Athletic Association 1, 7 (Aug. 2011), https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Transgender_Handbook_2011_Final.pdf.

[6] Ian Lovett, Changing Sex, and Changing Teams, N.Y. Times (May 6, 2013), http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/us/transgender-high-school-students-gain-admission-to-sports-teams.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] See K-12 Policies, TRANS*ATHLETE Resource, http://www.transathlete.com/#!k-12/c4w2 (last visited Oct. 4, 2015); Mitch Stephens, Oklahoma becomes 36th state to address transgender student-athletes, MaxWire National Blog (Jun. 10, 2015, 11:50 PM), http://www.maxpreps.com/blogs/maxwire-national-blog/F9PBtDKLIUq2xTEpRZM13w/oklahoma-becomes-36th-state-to-address-transgender-student-athletes.htm.

[11] Id.; K-12, supra note 10

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Pat Griffin, supra note 1

[18] See id.; see also NCAA Office of Inclusion, supra note 5

[19] See id.; see also Pat Griffin, supra note 1

[20] Helen J. Carroll and Pat Griffin, On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes, National Center for Lesbian Rights 1, 21 (Oct. 4, 2010), http://www.nclrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/TransgenderStudentAthleteReport.pdf

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Zolan V. Kanno-Youngs, NCAA Members Slow to Adopt Transgender Athlete Guidelines, USA Today (Aug. 5, 2015, 5:11 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2015/08/03/ncaa-transgender-athlete-guidelines-keelin-godsey-caitlyn-jenner/31055873/.

[26] See id.; see also Pat Griffin, supra note 1