The Mercury News Weekend

Proposal: School sports can't `categorica­lly' ban trans athletes

- By Sarah Mervosh and Remy Tumin

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.

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