Title IX’s next fight: transgender athletes’ rights

When the gender equality law known as Title IX became law in 1972, the politics of transgender sports was not even a blip in the national conversation. Today, it is one of the sharpest dividing points in American culture.

As the transformative law moves into its second half-century on the books, the Biden administration wants transgender athletes to enjoy the same protections that Title IX originally granted to women when it was passed 50 years ago. This stance is in stark contrast to efforts in states across the country.

“We are in a time where Title IX is being exploited and celebrated,” said Olympic champion swimmer Donna de Varona, who heads the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, which calls for a “middle way” to include transgender athletes. seeks. While it also doesn’t see “forced” as unfair competition. “But people are not going to look at the underbelly because it is complex and nuanced. And it has always been complex and nuanced.”

Without federal legislation to set the criteria for this highly technical issue — on the front lines of a culture divide that also includes abortion rights, gun control, and the “replacement doctrine,” among other topics — the High School Athletic Association and legislature 40 At least in the states, the vacancy has been filled on its own.

There are approximately 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated that 1.8% of them – about 275,000 – are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is small; A 2017 survey by the Human Rights Campaign suggested that less than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

Yet as of May, 19 states had passed laws banning or prohibiting transgender participation in sports, even though there were no problems.

Other measures do the opposite, allowing gender identity to determine an athlete’s eligibility. Across the country, there are innumerable rules and guidelines from state to state and sometimes from sport to sport or even from school to school.

The debate essentially boils down to advocates who want to protect the space Title IX engendered for cisgender women – women whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth – And those who want transgender athletes who compete as women to enjoy equal protection. any other. Consensus is nowhere to be seen, and fights are taking place.

Last fall, the American Civil Liberties Union and others filed suit against Tennessee’s ban on transgender athletes playing school sports. It was brought up by Luc Esquivel, a freshman golfer who was assigned female gender at birth but told his parents in 2019 that he identifies as male.

“I was really looking forward to trying out for the boys’ golf team and if I made it, to training and learning from other boys and learning and improving my game,” Esquivel said. “Then, for the legislature to pass a law that separated me and kids like me from being part of a team that crushed me, it hurt so much. I play like any other kid.” I want.”

All anti-transgender laws hit home for Kayla Patterson after the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union adopted rules to include transgender girls in 2014.

“When I was in high school, people called me a ‘monster’ because I was older than other girls,” she recalled on the Trans Porter Room podcast earlier this year, long before Iowa passed its transgender athlete ban. No. “That’s what they see us as now, especially in the Republican Party in Iowa. They don’t see us as human beings and predators.”

The complexity of the debate has also placed sports icons in awkward positions. De Varona, Martina Navratilova, Edwin Moses and Chris Evert have long been at the forefront of equality in women’s sports. They want a way to include transgender athletes in mainstream sports, but ensure that cisgender women stay in the mix to win, with trans athletes having an advantage in the “participation gap” by default.

De Varona’s group provides a 37-page “briefing book” on the subject. Among its proposals: Transgender women who have not taken steps to “reduce” their testosterone gains through “gender-affirming” hormones can participate in non-competing aspects of women’s sports, but in actual sports. Not unless they have a “direct competitor”. Celebration.

The group wants lawmakers to take cues from international sports, which have come up with rules for transgender athletes. The one most poignantly captured by the journey of South African runner Castor Semenya is riddled with puzzles, contradictions and despair. Semenya was forced to choose between drugs or surgery to lower her testosterone level, choosing not to compete in the Tokyo Olympics instead.

“It’s like stabbing myself with a knife every day. But I had no choice,” Semenya said in a recent interview with HBO about the hormone-altering drugs she took some middle-distance Took some time to be eligible for events.

While the rules governing transgender sports in track and field may be incomplete, they were the product of at least 13 years of research involving scientists from around the world, as well as countless lawsuits and hearings before tribunals that still matter. are deciding. Semenya, now 31.

By comparison, states in the US are making laws almost by the month. The ban, first implemented by Idaho in 2020, is one of several being challenged in court.

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the restrictions too harsh.

“It puts a target on the back of trans youth and makes them feel insecure,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “These state restrictions are widespread. They clearly exclude a group of people from playing any kind of game at any level.”

Debate over the law is often accompanied by debates on hot-button topics, including school bathroom use by transgender students, whether schools should teach about sexual orientation and gender identity, and gender-affirming parenting for minors. Contains father’s consent.

But the major battle in transgender sports centers on the idea of ​​fair competition, where extensive research is still generally lacking in elite athletics and virtually none when it comes to determining whether, a sophomore transgender girl should be considered her cisgender. Whether or not there is a clear advantage over teammates.

“People say ‘Well, trans women have advantages, so, this may not be fair,’ or ‘trans women are women and therefore trans rights are not up for debate,'” said Joanna Harper, a transgender woman and researcher. Told. Loughborough University in the UK who has helped shape transgender policy to World Athletics, the International Olympic Committee and other major sporting organizations. “And these very simplistic statements appeal to two different political bases. And it is unfortunate that people resort to these simple methods to fabricate arguments, and in many cases are unwilling to make any meaningful compromises. Huh.”

In May, Indiana lawmakers overrode a governor’s veto to enact a law prohibiting transgender women from competing in girls’ high school sports, defying the governor’s argument that K-12 sports were a problem. which required “intervention of the State Government”.

The ACLU almost immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the law. On the other end of the spectrum, Connecticut has four cisgender female high school athletes challenging rules that allow transgender athletes to participate in sports based on their sexual identity.

At the federal level, the Department of Education under the Trump administration argued in an important case that the term “sex” should be interpreted strictly to the gender determined at birth of a person. Under the Biden administration, the department sees Title IX’s iconic phrase “discrimination on the basis of sex” as including “discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

As the 50th anniversary of Title IX approaches, a stronger solution—a new law or a revised version of Title IX—seems impossible. President Joe Biden rolled back several of the Trump administration’s rules regarding transgender rights, a day after his inauguration, but the legislation went nowhere.

With the midterm elections underway, Republicans have consistently used transgender sports as a campaign issue. De Varona says that the politicization of the topic blunts some valid arguments by those, including her policy group, who want to ensure that women are not denied the level playing field that Title IX 50 provides. Years ago that was the aspiration.

Still, de Varona said, “let’s not demonize transgender students, and let’s find a way to understand the nuances of it.”

“But then,” she said, “no one wants specifics.”

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AP Sportswriter Erica Hunzinger contributed.

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