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Hastings Center News

Do Laws Restricting Transgender Youth-Athlete Participation Safeguard Fair Competition?

Twenty-one states have laws barring transgender youth-athletes from competing on public-school sports teams in accordance with their gender identity. Proponents claim that transgender females in particular have inherent physiological advantages that threaten a “level playing field” for their cisgender competitors. Existing evidence is limited but does not support these restrictions, finds an article in the Hastings Center Report.

Relevant data “does not show that transgender girls demonstrate a level of athletic performance outside the vast natural range of performance among cisgender girls,” write Valerie M. Moyer, Amanda Zink, and Brendan Parent.

Gathering more robust data will require allowing transgender youth to compete (rather than preemptively barring them), but even if trans females are shown to retain some advantage, this would not have greater moral significance than the many other “fair” physical and economic advantages found across sports, the authors conclude. These regulations deprive transgender youth, an exceptionally vulnerable population, from the vast physical, mental, and social benefits of sports. The authors advocate for transgender inclusion under our current, gender-segregated model of sport and propose changes to the overarching structure that would promote a more inclusive and fairer athletic environment.

For example, the authors propose rethinking categories of sport. “Reimagined categories of future sports competitions could account not only for variations in sex and gender identity but also for characteristics like height, weight, possession of the EPOR gene mutation [which leads to an increased ability to use oxygen efficiently], and socioeconomic status.”

They add, “Another option would be to expand the number of unisex teams. Such teams are already common in several sports, including ultimate frisbee at the high-school level, roller derby, and horse racing, as well as in many informal coed recreation leagues at both the early-youth and adult levels. Instead of passing laws aimed at exclusion, states could require schools to maintain at least one gender-inclusive sports team.”