by Ilona Turner, Legal Director at Transgender Law Center and Helen J. Carroll, NCLR Sports Project Director
The advertisement from the Child Protection League Action that appeared in in several newspapers across Minnesota last Sunday—attacking the Minnesota High School League’s proposed policy to address transgender student-athletes—was misleading and dangerous.
The proposed policy has nothing to do with “male” students playing on girls’ teams. Rather, it has to do with transgender students—a tiny fraction of the population whose sex at birth is different from who they know they are on the inside, and who live every day in accordance with their true gender identity. Title IX, the federal nondiscrimination law that applies to schools, requires that transgender students be allowed a fair opportunity to participate in school activities with their classmates. The law is clear that they can’t be singled out and excluded just because they are transgender.
Minnesotans should know that there are currently 15 states with similar athletic eligibility policies, some of which have had those policies in place for over five years, and none have seen any adverse consequences. Each of those athletic associations have put in safeguards to ensure that the policy applies only to students who are transgender. Non-transgender male students in those states have never attempted to falsely claim to be a transgender female in order to participate in girls’ sports—and the proposed policy would not permit them to play even if such a far-fetched scenario were to happen.
Discussions about the participation of transgender student-athletes often focus on the athletic differences between boys and girls. Unfortunately, that focus overshadows the reality that there is a far wider range of athletic ability among boys and among girls. For the small number of transgender student-athletes who have been able to participate in sports through these policies, those students have blended in well with the size and skill level of their teammates. A transgender student is no more likely to take another child’s place on a sports team than a non-transgender student.
Athletic directors and coaches in states that have similar policies have done a great job of addressing the privacy and other needs of each athlete and ensuring that every player feels comfortable and respected. Accommodations like the creation of areas with extra privacy in the locker room that any athlete can use to change have successfully addressed any privacy concerns with transgender-inclusive eligibility policies.
Like the growing number of states with these policies, the Minnesota High School League is to be commended for its efforts to ensure transgender student-athletes are fully included, along with all other student-athletes, in school sports throughout the state. Advertisements like the one printed last Sunday are a shameful and disingenuous attempt to stir up irrational fear and target already-vulnerable transgender youth for exclusion from participating in school activities with their peers. They have no place in this otherwise civil and respectful public discourse.
This article was co-written with