best practices

How Should Colleges Handle Trans Athletes? By Letting Them Play On The Team They Want

If the harrowing stories about Caster Semenya’s very public gender testing are any indication, it’s that athletics groups don’t have their shit together when it comes to gender. Whether it’s intersex or transgender athletes, American high schools and colleges are without standards, leaving many of these competitors in a lurch: Are they cheating by playing on the guys’ team? Is their testosterone level too high for the girls’ team? A new report, sponsored by a slew of LGBT groups including NCLR, came up with this solution: Let athletes compete on whatever team they identify with.

With the story of Keelin Godsey at the forefront — a champion hammer, weight, and discus Bates College athlete who was born a woman but identifies as a man — “On The Team” (PDF) takes a comprehensive look at the mishmash of rules and regulations that colleges across the country loosely use to handle non-gender-conforming athletes. It focuses solely on trans athletes, however, and not intersex persons. As Inside Higher Ed notes:

The NCAA is currently studying the issue — and has had the policy of leaving decisions up to individual colleges, meaning that no national standard exists today. While NCAA rules about men’s and women’s teams were developed without a sense of a growing transgender population, the issue is starting to surface in college sports. The NCAA reports that its national office has received 30 inquiries in the last two years about how colleges should deal with transgender athletes. Those numbers could increase, given that more people than in the past are identifying themselves as transgender, more are doing so at younger ages than in the past, and a growing number of colleges have anti-bias policies that cover gender identity.

So what should groups like the NCAA do?

The report divides its recommendations for colleges into two categories of transgender students: those who are undergoing hormone treatments and those who are not. (And the report notes that many people who identify as transgender do not take medical steps.)

For those undergoing hormone treatments, the report recommends that a male-to-female transgender athlete should be able to participate on men’s teams, but should complete one year of hormone treatments before competing on a women’s team. The report recommends that a female-to-male transgender athlete, who is taking prescribed testosterone, should be allowed to compete on men’s teams, but must seek an exemption to NCAA rules barring the use of testosterone.

For those not undergoing hormone treatments, the report recommends that transgender students should all have the option of competing on the teams consistent with birth gender, that female-to-male students be allowed to participate on either the men’s or women’s team, but that male-to-female transgender students not be permitted to compete on women’s teams.

The report notes the concerns some have expressed about male-to-female athletes having an unfair advantage because of their pre-transition bodies. But the report says that its recommendations are based on scientific studies showing that after a year of hormone treatment, that advantage would be gone, and the recommendations are based on that time span.

Further, the report says “schools should adopt transgender student athlete inclusive policies proactively, rather than waiting for a transgender student to express an interest in sports participation” — since not having any policy at all could be a hindrance to getting someone to even consider playing.

But my favorite part of the report — besides answering the question of why a report like this is even needed — is when it shoots down the notion that athletes will simply “claim” to be transgender just to have a competitive advantage. As if some macho male athlete is going to compete against women just so he can win a medal?