Groundbreaking Report Urges High School and College Athletics to Establish Standard, National Policies for Transgender Student Athletes

Report is the first to address transgender student athletes, provides comprehensive model policies

A groundbreaking report sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and It Takes A Team!, an Initiative of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is urging high school and college athletic associations across the country to adopt standard policies to provide transgender student athletes fair and equal opportunity to participate on athletic teams.

The report, “On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes,” released on October 4, 2010, is the first ever to thoroughly address the complete integration of transgender student athletes within high school and collegiate athletic programs. The report is also the first to provide comprehensive model policies and a framework for athletic leaders to ensure equal access to school athletics for transgender students.

“Educators and parents must be open to this challenge if we are to create educational institutions that value and meet the needs of all students,” says report co-author Dr. Pat Griffin former director of It Takes A Team! “Once we recognize that transgender young people are part of school communities across the United States, educational leaders have a responsibility to ensure that these students have equal access to opportunities in all academic and extracurricular activities in a safe and respectful school environment.”

In October 2009, NCLR and It Takes A Team! invited experts on transgender issues from a range of disciplines—law, medicine, advocacy, and athletics—to take part in a national think tank on equal opportunity for transgender student athletes. Think tank participants, including leaders from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National High School Federation met over several days, identifying best practices. Co-authors Griffin and NCLR Sports Project Director Helen J. Carroll developed these best practices into model policies and a framework for high school and college athletic leaders to ensure the full inclusion of transgender student athletes.

“An increasing number of high school- and college-aged young people are identifying as transgender. This report is an invaluable tool to guide coaches and administrators in providing equal opportunities for transgender student athletes in a fair and just manner, based on reliable information and data,” says Carroll. “No student athlete should ever be turned away from a team because an athletic department hasn’t established policies that would allow them to participate.”

According to the 56-page report, although “the needs of transgender students in high school and college have received some attention in recent years, this issue has not been adequately addressed in the context of athletics. Few high school or collegiate athletic programs, administrators, or coaches are prepared to fairly, systematically, and effectively address a transgender student’s interest in participating in athletics. The majority of school athletic programs have no policy governing the inclusion of transgender student athletes, and most coaches are unprepared to accommodate a transgender student who wants to play on a sports team. In fact, most school athletic programs are unprepared to address even basic accommodations, such as knowing what pronouns or names to use when referring to a transgender student, where a transgender student should change clothes for practice or competition, or what bathroom or shower that student should use.”

The report determined:

  • The adoption of transgender-inclusive policies and practices dispels stereotypes and fears about gender diversity. When transgender students are stigmatized and excluded, even non-transgender students may experience pressure to conform to gender-role stereotypes as a way to avoid being bullied or harassed themselves.
  • Failure to adopt transgender-inclusive participation policies is hurtful to and discriminates against transgender students because they may be denied the opportunity to participate in school sports.
  • Failure to adopt inclusive participation policies also hurts non-transgender students by conveying a message that the values of non-discrimination and inclusion are less important than values based on competition and winning. Schools must model and educate about non-discrimination values in all aspects of school programming, not only for students, but for parents and community members as well.
  • Failure to adopt policies that ensure equal opportunities for transgender student athletes may also result in costly and divisive litigation. A growing number of states and localities are adopting specific legal protections for transgender students. In addition, state and federal courts are increasingly applying sex discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination against transgender people.

Several studies show that schools are often hostile places for transgender students and other students who do not conform to stereotypical gender expectations. These students are frequently subjected to peer harassment and bullying. This mistreatment can lead to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and low self-esteem. When a school or athletic organization denies transgender students the ability to participate in sports because of their gender identity or expression, that condones, reinforces and affirms their social status as outsiders who deserve the hostility they experience from peers.”

The report provides:

  • Model policies—created by leading athletic, legal, and medical experts—for including transgender students in both high school and college athletics that ensure the safety, privacy, and dignity of all student athletes.
  • Specific best practice recommendations for athletic administrators, coaches, student athletes, parents, and the media.
  • A thorough analysis of issues related to providing equal opportunities for transgender student athletes.
  • An in-depth list of local and national resources to help address transgender issues in athletics.
  • Definitions of key terms, as well as information about the legal rights of transgender people in the United States.

The report reflects a collaborative process, including the best thinking of think tank participants, based on current medical knowledge and legal protections for transgender people, about how to ensure equal opportunities for transgender student athletes. The purpose of the report is to provide leaders in education and athletics with the information they need to make effective policy decisions about the participation of transgender student athletes in high school and college athletic programs. It is intended for everyone involved with high school or collegiate athletics, including college presidents, school board members, high school state athletic association leaders, school principals and district superintendents, intercollegiate athletic conference commissioners, and sport governing organization leaders.

“We are confident that the report will be an essential guide for high school and college athletic leaders as they adopt policies to ensure that all student-athletes, including transgender students, will have equal opportunities to enjoy sports,” says Kathryn E. Olson, Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “The Women’s Sports Foundation has always sought to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. Our sponsorship of this think tank and support for the recommendations in this report are a part of this commitment.”

Download your copy of “On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes.”

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