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Event Organizers Must Face Realities Posed by Trans Athletes

18 Sep, 2019

By: Michael Popke
Rights Holders Are Learning It's Not a Question of If, but When, the Questions Arise

As fall high school sports seasons commence around the country, some administrators are facing challenges stemming from an increasing number of transgender athletes — challenges that also could impact event organizers.

Consider these two examples:

• In May, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors approved a policy that “allows participation in interscholastic athletics for all students, regardless of gender or gender identification” — thus allowing students a path to playing on the team affiliated with their chosen gender, pending submittal of a Gender Identity Request Form. The request should be based on the gender identification of a particular student in current school records and daily activities in the school and community, according to HighSchoolOT.com.

Now, the North Carolina Values Coalition, a nonpartisan lobbying group, is pushing back by urging people to sign a petition or contact the NCHSAA urging the policy be changed. Among its concerns is “allowing biological males who claim to be transgender” competing as females and “having access to locker rooms and bathroom facilities,” according to the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer, which added that advocates of transgender rights reject concerns about bathrooms and locker rooms.

• Connecticut, one of 19 states that allow high school transgender athletes to compete without restrictions, also is facing resistance as the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy is under investigation by the federal Office of Civil Rights.

According to the Hartford Courant:

The families of three high school track athletes filed a complaint with conservative Christian law firm Alliance Defending Freedom to the Office of Civil Rights earlier this year, alleging that the girls were discriminated against because they had to compete against two athletes who are biologically male but identify as female. The complaint states that the rule violates Title IX and prevented them from top finishes and potentially from college scholarships.

The essence of the complaint is that the transgender girls are displacing girls who are cisgender (someone who identifies with their birth sex) as the runners advance through the postseason, denying the cisgender girls spots in the State Open or the New England championships, and thus chances to showcase their talent in front of college coaches or compete against higher level competition.

“Female athletes deserve to compete on a level playing field,” Christina Holcomb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, told the paper. “Forcing them to compete against boys makes them spectators in their own sports, which is grossly unfair and destroys their athletic opportunities.”

Dan Barrett, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, which is representing two of the runners named in the complaint, disagrees. “Efforts to undermine Title IX by claiming it doesn’t apply to a subset of girls will ultimately hurt all students,” he said. “Girls who are transgender are girls. The Trump administration — from the Office of Civil Rights to the Supreme Court — is systematically trying to roll back rights for transgender people in all aspects of life. We will fight to defend transgender people across the country, including in sports.”

Slate.com, a daily online magazine, noted in August that inclusive athletic-participation policies “pose no threat to cisgender athletes.”

“[T]here is simply no evidence that transgender students are limiting their peers’ ability to compete and win,” courts and law reporter Mark Joseph Stern wrote. “Trans athletes are not destroying women’s sports. One of ADF’s clients in the Connecticut case, Selina Soule, illustrates this point. Soule is angry that two trans students beat her in Connecticut’s 2019 girls indoor track championship this year. But Soule did not place third — she placed eighth. She is less a victim of discrimination than a sore loser.”

Transathlete.com states that “policies for trans inclusion in athletics vary greatly depending on the state, sport, league, organization, level of play and other factors,” and provides a list of such policies.

Organizers of all types of sporting events must be aware of the potential for confusion and controversy as more transgender athletes enter competitions as the gender with which they identify. Tennis Club Business — a newsletter for players, clubs owners and facility managers — recently addressed the issue with its readers, and this topic is only going to become hotter.

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