Transgender Women and Girls in Sports

Over the past several weeks, multiple states have introduced legislation limiting or banning male to female transgender athletes from participating in women’s and girl’s sports.  Proponents of the various bills and laws argue that transgender athletes would have an unfair advantage over cisgender (or biological) women and girls, especially if the transgender athletes went through male puberty. They see the bans as a way to protect the opportunities of cisgender female athletes. Opponents worry how such bans will negatively impact transgender athletes, both in their ability to compete and their overall psychological well-being, and have voiced concerns about how banning trans women and girls from sports is reflective of what they see as the larger problem of transgender people being pushed to the edges of society. Opponents have also raised concerns about exceptional cisgender athletes being challenged over their gender (in other words, being suspected of being trans without proof due to excellent performance) and invasive or unequal sex-verification requirements between men’s and women’s’ sports.

Where are the bans proposed?

Most recently bills have been signed into law in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Bills have passed in the West Virginia and Kansas legislatures, and are being pushed in Pennsylvania and Florida. Some form of legislation has been proposed in over 20 states since the start of the year. South Dakota provides an interesting counterpoint, where the bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Governor Noem, who later issued two executive orders regulating sports, which have been viewed by all sides as a weaker alternative to a legislative ban because it removes regulation at the college level.

How have sporting authorities responded?

Several states are worried about backlash from the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), which can bring incredible amounts of revenue to states depending on where they hold certain games, especially championships. The association has had a rule since 2011 that transgender women can play as long as they have been taking testosterone suppressors for at least one year. So far they have not responded to the plethora of bills beyond a single press release affirming their policy of supporting all athletes, but in 2016 they did move a championship from North Carolina in response to a law there that required people to use public bathrooms in accordance with their gender signed at birth, part of a massive boycott of the state that led to the partial repeal of the “bathroom bill.” Transgender advocates are hoping the NCAA will use that as a precedent and respond similarly now, in addition to hopes that they will take steps to actively support transgender athletes and affirm their position in sport. 

What happens next?

It looks like the largest challenge for these bans will be to avoid lawsuits. Last August, Idaho passed a ban that was halted by a federal judge after both a transgender and a cisgender student sued for different reasons. In South Dakota, Governor Noem changed the legislative ban to a simpler executive order in hopes of avoiding a similar judicial takedown. There has been no indication that the federal government will step in on this issue. 

Need clarification? Where do you think this situation will wind up? Share in the comments!


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