Trans Policies Evolve

April 26, 2015

The following article appears in the April/May 2015 issue of Athletic Management.

Across the country, state high school associations are grappling with policies regarding the participation of transgender student-athletes. Thirty-three states now have rules in place, most of which aim to protect transgender students from discrimination.

The Minnesota State High School League’s new guidelines, voted through in December, went through extensive debate. The new policy grants individual districts the authority to determine a student’s eligibility. Local decisions, however, can be appealed for review at the state level.

Supporters believe the new rules will create a more inclusive athletic environment for transgender students. The Transgender Law and Policy Institute says that the harmful effects of excluding trans students from the benefits of competitive sports would be detrimental to a population that already has to overcome many challenges.

Opponents cite concerns about physical imbalances between transgender girls who were born as boys and females. In addition, they express fears about having a biological male in female locker rooms.

December also saw the Virginia High School League (VHSL) pass a new policy. Its former rule required that a transgender student undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to qualify for the team of his or her identified gender. Now, transgender student-athletes can participate on teams that correspond with their gender identity by providing documentation that will be reviewed at several levels. The requirement includes a personal, written statement; letters from teachers, parents, and friends confirming the student’s gender identity; a complete list of medications and treatments; and verification from a health-care professional.

The request must be approved by the school’s athletic director and principal, and then a VHSL district chairperson. From there it is examined by a three-member committee made up of officials from neighboring schools.

Several groups have criticized Virginia’s updated rules, saying the complicated process will deter transgender athletes from participating. They also believe approval should occur at the local instead of regional level and cite privacy concerns, as the required documents are reviewed by at least six individuals.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has decided to implement a loose policy, which simply encourages its member schools to draw up guidelines for including transgender athletes. One of the first school districts to follow through was in Baraboo, Wis., where a new policy states that the school district will provide equal athletic opportunity to trans students. The transgender athlete must provide a personal written statement and documentation from a medical professional, as well as testimonies of parents, friends, and teachers. The procedure places an emphasis on privacy, and requires confidentiality throughout the process.

In Montana, a proposed rule that sought to protect and include transgender student-athletes was removed from the docket. It called for a transgender student to file an application for athletic eligibility through their school, which would be assessed by a committee made up of healthcare professionals, Montana High School Association officials, and a student advocate. That committee would then recommend a decision to the executive board. Opponents released podcasts that highlighted issues with transgender athletes sharing hotel rooms and locker rooms with members of the opposite biological sex and possible physical advantages of female transgender athletes.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has added its voice by releasing a statement last April. It reads: “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation.”


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