One of the thorniest issues in the debate over trans individuals is whether to allow students to compete on teams that don’t match their genetic and anatomical gender. In other words, can an anatomical boy who identifies as a girl compete on girls’ sports teams and vice versa?
An increasing number of states are considering laws that would require everyone to play on teams matching their gender assigned at birth. Tennessee is now considering such a bill. House Bill 1572 would require both public elementary and secondary schools to “ensure that student athletes participate in school-sanctioned sports based on the student’s biological sex as indicated on the certificate issued at the time of birth.” If schools fail to comply, they would be sanctioned by a loss of state funding.
Georgia, Washington State, and Missouri are all considering similar laws. Seven other states, including Texas, already have various laws limiting trans student’s ability to play on the team of their identified gender. These laws will allow a student to play on a team that doesn’t match their birth gender only if they have undergone surgery or an extended course of hormone therapy and a waiting period.
Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats in Washington D.C. are considering legislation that pressures schools to move in the opposite direction and would sanction them if they don’t. The Equality Act, a broad bill that is intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual identity and sexual orientation, would most likely require schools to allow students to compete on the team that matches their gender identity. According to a press release from the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Equality Act: “Arguments about transgender athletes participating in sports in accordance with their gender identity having competitive advantages have not been borne out. Sports have positive impacts on physical, social, and emotional well-being, and we should not be denying transgender athletes those opportunities simply because sometimes they may win.”
This is a very controversial area and it provokes strong passions. But hopefully, one thing that everyone can agree upon is that schools shouldn’t be caught in a situation in which they will be punished by the state for doing one thing and punished by the federal government for doing the opposite. Schools shouldn’t be treated like hockey pucks being battered by politicians from both sides.
This issue is difficult for several reasons. First of all, the public is divided. When asked in May 2019 whether they favored or opposed “allowing transgender students to participate on the sports teams of the gender they identified with, letting biological males, for example, play girls sports” a slight majority were opposed. 54% said no, while 28% said yes and 18% were uncertain.
Furthermore, this is an area where people disagree over both facts and values. In terms of values, people don’t agree on how to weigh the value of access against the value of fair competition. For example, after two trans girls placed first and second in a Connecticut state track competition, the mother of one of the trans athletes defended the decision to let her daughter compete. She said, “it allows her to be who she wants to be and I think that has to have a little bit more weight than just winning a medal.” But others point out that important scholarships that put college within financial reach can turn on who wins the medals.
There is also widespread factual disagreement about whether trans girls have a competitive advantage over anatomical girls, even after hormone therapy. The Tennessee legislator who introduced the bill says: “We are seeing more and more transgender athletes competing and posting victories in traditionally gendered sports competitions, and doing so to the detriment of girls and women biologically born female. Boys and men, due to testosterone levels, bigger bone structure, greater lung capacity, and larger heart size, have physical advantages in sports relative to girls and women.” Others disagree. As noted above, House Democrats say such arguments have “not been borne out.”
Also, there is a disagreement about which physical traits lead to a competitive advantage. While men might be bigger, stronger, and faster, a recent study found that women may have greater muscle endurance. According to one of the study’s authors: “I may not be able to bench-press the same amount of weight as a big muscle-bound guy, but if you ask us both to perform a contraction at 100 percent of our maximum strength and sustain it as long as we can, I should be able to outperform him.”
So, there is a lot of disagreement here and, if things don’t change, many schools are going to caught in a situation where they get sanctioned no matter what that do. Part of the problem is the poor level of dialogue on trans issues. The political left sees this a civil rights issue and therefore treats even verbal skepticism about gender fluidity as a punishable offense. As I have written about previously, a teacher in Virginia was fired for declining to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns. Very recently, J.K. Rowling set off a firestorm of criticism when she tweeted that a woman shouldn’t be fired for expressing skepticism about gender fluidity. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine that a lot of open-minded discussion about gender fluidity is taking place in the reddest parts of America.
This is an area where Americans would be a lot better off trying to talk to one another rather than trying to punish one another. J.K. Rowling is right—no one should be fired for expressing general views about gender fluidity. (Negative statements targeting or about a specific transgender person may be workplace harassment though.) States and the federal government should be working together at compromise, not battering schools with sanctions from both directions.
Source: Forbes – Leadership