Transgender Athletes in Sex-Segregated Sport

Least-Inclusive Policies

The sport organizations with the least inclusive policies are likely those without any policy addressing inclusion of transgender athletes. In the absence of express words to the contrary, gatekeepers, such as coaches and administrators, may choose to narrowly interpret “sex” in the context of a sex-specific team to only include those who were assigned that sex at birth, without regard for the fact that such an interpretation would preclude some transgender individuals, such as Jaime, from participating in the category most meaningful to them. As further illustrated by Jaime’s story, when sport organizations do not expressly convey the message of inclusion through their policies, they put the burden on the athletes to risk rejection, criticism, publicity, and controversy. Seeking to participate under these circumstances would require transgender athletes to sacrifice privacy and to actively self-advocate for the right to play with their identified gender, a right which is automatically extended to non-transgender athletes. It is easy to see how these risks can operate as a deterrent to participation, and as a result, exclusion.

In 2003, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body charged with overseeing Olympic competition and those events leading up to the Games, became the first athletic body to adopt a policy of inclusion regarding transgender athletes. At the time, many saw this as a progressive step because it broadened the prevailing birth-sex paradigm and allowed for some transgender athletes to compete with their transitioned gender. The IOC’s policy, however, is
one of conditional inclusion. Only those who have (a) undergone sex reassignment surgery, (b) had hormone treatments for at least two years, and (c) received legal recognition of their transitioned sex can participate consistent with their gender identities (IOC, 2003). Many have critiqued these restrictions for excluding more athletes than necessary to achieve the IOC’s stated objective of preserving a supposedly level playing field – in particular, a level playing field within women’s sport. there is no medical basis to require an athlete transitioning from male to female to surgically remove her testes, the body’s source of testosterone, in addition to undergoing hormone treatment that includes anti-androgens to neutralize the effect of testosterone in the body. Along with the requirement of a legally recognized sex change, the requirement for surgery seems only to underscore the permanence and irrevocability of the athlete’s transition in order to ensure that the athlete is really transgender, and not temporarily transitioning for the purpose of a competitive advantage. Yet this concern is hardly supported by
history, as evidence by the fact that IOC’s decades-long history with gender verification testing has never revealed a case of fraud.

Unfortunately, the combination of the IOC’s stature, coupled with it having been at the forefront of the issue of transgender inclusion, has influenced several sport organizations to adopt the IOC’s policy as their own. Many of these organizations govern professional and other elite sports, which exist for capitalist and nationalist purposes rather than the promotion of health, recreation, community, and other objectives that value inclusion. More concerning, however, is the fact that the IOC’s policy has been adopted by two state high school athletic associations, and is currently still the policy of one. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which governs interscholastic athletics for 184 high schools and 148 middle schools (public and private) in the state of Connecticut, requires students to participate in their “birth sex” unless they have undergone “sex reassignment,” which it defines in similar fashion as the IOC.

That is, transgender students in Connecticut must undergo sex reassignment surgery, hormone treatment, a two-year waiting period after surgery, and legal recognition of new sex. Similarly, the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) adopted a policy that allows transgender students to participate in sports consistent with their transitioned sex only if they have undergone surgical and hormonal transition. However, a more recently-adopted policy appears to gives member schools the discretion to relax these requirements when determining an athlete’s eligibility. Unfortunately, the application of the IOC’s policy to high school athletics can
hardly be considered an inclusive policy. Jaime, the student described in the introduction to this chapter, does not satisfy the surgical, hormonal, or the legal sex change components of the policy. And even if she had made a different decision to start a hormone treatment, it is highly unlikely that she’d be a candidate for sex reassignment surgery at such a young age, since surgical intervention is not recommended as part of the standard of care for transgender individuals under 18 years of age, except in rare cases. Furthermore, considering the additional two-year waiting period imposed in Connecticut makes clear that adopting the IOC’s policy for high schools is an effective ban on transgender participation, given that one’s eligibility for high school athletics is typically only four years. If Jaime lived in Connecticut, she would have had to undergone sex reassignment surgery sometime before seventh grade (probably age twelve) in
order to play girls’ sports for four years in high school.

Most-Inclusive Policies

The most inclusive policies governing participation by transgender athletes are those that turn not on whether the athletes has transitioned to some degree, but on what gender category that athlete declares as most appropriate for her- or himself. In 2007, the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state of Washington, enacted a policy allowing students to participate in sports “in a manner that is consistent with their gender
identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.” Should any questions arise about the appropriateness of a student’s asserted gender, an eligibility committee can determine whether the athlete’s gender identity is “bona fide” (i.e., that the athlete is really transgender and not pretending to be the other sex for an improper purpose). Importantly, no medical evidence is required to confirm that a student’s asserted gender identity is bona fide. The WIAA’s policy instructs the eligibility committee to accept confirmation of the student’s “consistent gender identification” in the form of affirmed written statements from the student, the student’s parent or guardian, or her or his health care provider. The most recent example of a most-inclusive policy comes not from athletic association bylaws, but through an application of state law. On July 1, 2012, a statute went into effect in the state of Massachusetts that protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the context of employment, housing, and education (An Act Relative to Gender Identity, 2011). The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has promulgated regulations to specify the law’s application to public and charter schools within the state. Specifically, to the regulatory provision allowing schools to sponsor separate teams for female and male students, the Department added the following sentence: “A student shall have the opportunity to participate on the team that is consistent with the student’s gender identity”.

This simple regulatory provision is augmented by the statutory definition of gender identity, which includes a mechanism for ensuring that an individual’s asserted gender identity is legitimate and sincerely held: “gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity; provided however, gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose” (An Act Relative to Gender Identity, 2011).

Advocating for more- Inclusive Policies

In 2003, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body charged with overseeing Olympic competition and those events leading up to the Games, became the first athletic body to adopt a policy of inclusion regarding transgender athletes. At the time, many saw this as a progressive step because it broadened the prevailing birth-sex paradigm and allowed for some transgender athletes to compete with their transitioned gender. The IOC’s policy, however, is
one of conditional inclusion. Only those who have (a) undergone sex reassignment surgery, (b) had hormone treatments for at least two years, and (c) received legal recognition of their transitioned sex can participate consistent with their gender identities. Many have critiqued these restrictions for excluding more athletes than necessary to achieve the IOC’s stated objective of preserving a supposedly level playing field – in particular, a level playing field within
women’s sport.

Unfortunately, the combination of the IOC’s stature, coupled with it having been
at the forefront of the issue of transgender inclusion, has influenced several sport
organizations to adopt the IOC’s policy as their own. Many of these organizations govern professional and other elite sports, which exist for capitalist and nationalist purposes rather than the promotion of health, recreation, community, and other objectives that value inclusion. More concerning, however, is the fact that the IOC’s policy has been adopted by two state high school athletic associations, and is currently still the policy of one. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which governs interscholastic athletics for 184 high schools and 148 middle schools (public and private) in the state of Connecticut, requires students to participate in their “birth sex” unless they have undergone “sex reassignment,” which it defines in similar fashion as the IOC. That is, transgender students in Connecticut must undergo sex reassignment
surgery, hormone treatment, a two-year waiting period after surgery, and legal recognition of new sex. Similarly, the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) adopted a policy that allows transgender students to participate in sports consistent with their transitioned sex only if they have undergone surgical and hormonal transition. However, a more recently-adopted policy appears to gives member schools the discretion to relax these requirements when determining an athlete’s eligibility.

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