This page will be a little shorter than many, because it will serve as a work in progress as news on this front continues to develop.
The United States National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which governs more than 1,000 member institutions, has produced a non-binding position statement which says transgender athletes may compete as their correct gender, based on what is shown on their driver’s license, taxes, voter registration, etc. Lacking these bona fides, a person born male who participates on a women’s team changes the classification of the team to being a ”mixed” team. Since every state has its own qualifications for determining the gender markers on government documents, this leads to a situation where a transgender person born male, who is not even on hormone therapy, might be competing with women or on a woman’s team. (Buzuvis) At the interscholastic level, policies on gender recognition in sports could vary from state to state, district to district, or even school to school, leading to a potential for unfair competition and, to be blunt, bad public relations.
Specific sporting bodies have struggled with transgender athletes. The Women’s Division of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) struggled with this subject for some time, specifically for its most popular sport, Lesbian Softball, and in 2003 adopted the following revision to its Constitution:
“Any player shall be eligible for play in the Women’s Division who self-identifies as female.” (Travers)
However, some local clubs refuse to follow the organization’s own directives – for example, some clubs have allowed only post-operative male to female transsexuals, turning those without surgery away. (Travers)
The stated reasons for excluding transwomen fell into three categories: safety, sexism, and culture. In interviews with lesbian women who had reservations regarding playing sports with transwomen, one researcher found that concerns were expressed along the following lines:
“The biggest thing that came up for that is because of safety issues. You know, if you’ve got a six foot four inch guy who used to be a guy and he’s up there to bat and he’s still got some of the strength and you know how dangerous that is for some of the pitchers and in-fielders.”
Many women reported negative experiences in mixed-sex sport contexts. The assumption by the men that they are better athletes than women presented ongoing difficulties. According to Shania, a player, ‘most guys were okay but there were always a few who, if they could get away with it, would step in front of me to make the play for me.’
Several of the women stated that players in the women’s division should not ‘look like men.’ Their transition to female identity should be complete in every respect, these women argue, before they are allowed to play. (Travers)
An interview published in 2006 with four transgender athletes reported numerous challenges which they faced, with most of them being subtle to open hostility from their competitors. Most unfortunately, even their team mates would subject them to abuse. For example, one athlete reported their team mates deliberately used the wrong pronouns, and harassed them endlessly about using the proper locker facilities. (Lucas)
When South African 800-meter runner Caster Semenya started to rack up impressive wins in her event in 2009, she was treated like a criminal by the International Association of Athletic Federation (IAAF), who lied to her to get her to take a chromosome test. (Adair) While she and her team fought with the IAAF over their demands for proof she was a woman, the world press demonized Semenya as a “shemale” at best, and a man committing fraud at worst. While the full information on Semenya’s physical condition has never been released, unconfirmed reports are that she is a true intersex woman with internal testes and no uterus or ovaries. (Adair) Semenya did get her own back – she has since racked up an impressive array of wins in international competition, and in 2012 not only was she chosen to carry her country’s flag at the Olympics Games in London (Norlander), but she also took silver in the 800-meter event.
While it doesn’t compare to the harassment received by Semenya, even Chaz Bono received criticism for competing on the ABC television program Dancing with the Stars. Critics went so far as to declare Bono dangerous to children – Dr. Keith Ablow, a regular contributor to Fox News, claimed that if parents allowed their children to watch the program, they suddenly would start to question their gender identity, and bug their parents for SRS. (Randall)
The IOC’s 2012 Female Hyperandrogenism Ruling
Just prior to the London Olympic Games of 2012, the International Olympic Committee issued what are known as the IOC Regulations on Female Hyperandrogenism. This ruling was further updated in 2013 prior to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games of 2014, and another version of the report will be available in 2014. The ruling appears at first blush to only apply to true intersex women athletes, but a closer reading of it shows it is written vaguely enough that some claim it could include transgender women athletes. In general, the regulations state that intersex women will be allowed to compete as women provided that:
- They are legally recognized as women.
- Their testosterone level is not within the typical male range.
This ruling is very positive in that it allows much more freedom for intersex athletes to be guaranteed to compete, and also does not require any minimum level of surgical procedures to be allowed to compete as female. My reading of the regulations is that this only applies to female athletes suffering from actual diagnosed female hyperandrogenism, which is an intersex medical diagnosis, not a transgender diagnosis. However, I have read more than a few websites where folks have tried to barracks-room lawyer unusual interpretations of the ruling to have it include transgender athletes. What is telling is that I was unable to find any transgender athletes who have leveraged this ruling to compete, but that could merely be a result of the dearth of Olympic-caliber transgender athletes.
Status of Current Protections for Transgender Students
This topic is covered in great detail by Lawrence J. Altman, Lead Compliance Attorney, Exceptional Education Department, Kansas City Public Schools on this page featured here on Transas City.
Most notable from a current events standpoint was the passage on August 12, 2013, of an amendment to Section 221.5 of the California Education Code that requires public schools to permit transgender students the right to participate in athletics and use facilities in accordance with the child’s gender identity. This amendment was challenged by the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, but their attempts at forcing a referendum failed and the amendment is now law in California. The effects of the law are too soon to be measured or reported upon, so this is a developing part of this story.
At this point, we need to step away from history and current events, and enter the laboratory for a hard look at what makes us women and men, and how could these factors influence the potential for unfair athletic competition.
Part 1 – Introduction and Early History
Part 2 – The Cruelest Test
Part 3 – Post-Richards to the Stockholm Consensus
Part 4 – Current Events (Current page)
Part 5 – Let’s Get Physical
Part 6 – Why, oh Why, Must it be This Way?
Part 7 – Are There Any Cases Where an Advantage Seems Possible?
Part 8 – Final Summary and References