The Mercury News Weekend
Proposal: School sports can't `categorically' ban trans athletes
The Biden administration proposed a rule change Thursday that would forbid schools from enacting outright bans on transgender athletes from teams that are consistent with their gender identities, but offered flexibility for “fairness” and other exceptions that are likely to apply at the highest levels of competition.
Weighing in on the highly charged debate about transgender athletes and school sports, the Biden administration's proposal would make “categorically” banning all transgender students from teams that are consistent with their gender identities a violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
But it would also allow K-12 schools and universities to limit the participation of transgender students when including them could undermine “fairness in competition” or potentially lead to sports-related injuries.
Under the proposed rules, elementary school students would generally be able to participate on school teams consistent with their gender identities. But for older students, questions of fairness and physicality could come into play.
The Department of Education said the proposal was meant to “advance Title IX's long-standing goal of ensuring equal opportunity in athletics” while offering “much needed clarity” about how public schools, as well as colleges and universities, should handle an issue that has led to vociferous debate, particularly when it comes to transgender athletes in women's sports.
“Being on a sports team is an important part of the school experience for students of all ages,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, adding that “every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination.”
It would be up to schools to navigate how, exactly, the restrictions would be applied. The Education Department advised that schools would have to assess the age of students, the level of the competition, as well as the nature of the sport itself. The impact may be different, for example, in track versus badminton.
The proposal must undergo a period of public comment. Once in effect, a senior official with the Department of Education said, the federal government would be ready to investigate and enforce violations — up to and including withholding federal funding, if necessary.
Twenty states have laws on the books that ban transgender students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, according to Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parity.
Those laws would not be immediately undone by the Biden administration rule, said Dr. Elizabeth Sharrow, an associate professor of public policy and history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.