Welcome to the Team: Model Policies Include High School and College Transgender Student Athletes

By Pat Griffin and Helen J. Carroll

As educators and former coaches, we know that playing high school and college sports can have a tremendously positive impact on students, helping them build self-esteem and skills that will help them in every aspect of their future lives.

We also know that being excluded from participation in sports because of bias and discrimination causes devastating harm. In recent years, we have become deeply concerned about the lack of supportive policies for transgender athletes in high schools and colleges, and recognized an urgent need to provide schools with guidance.

To meet that need, in 2009 the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation convened a think tank of athletic, legal, and medical experts to develop model policies to ensure that high school and college transgender student athletes are treated fairly and respectfully.

Today, we’re proud to release the think tank’s final report, which fills the void in high school and intercollegiate athletics by giving school and athletic administrators the guidance they need to create a fair and respectful school environment. The report —On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes—provides long-overdue  policy recommendations for the inclusion of transgender student athletes, best practices for athletic administrators, coaches, student athletes, and parents, along with an overview of transgender students’ legal rights.

Transgender young people are part of school communities across the United States, and educational leaders have a responsibility to ensure that these students can access all academic and extracurricular activities in a safe and respectful school environment.

Instead, too often, transgender students face needless obstacles to participating in high school and college sports.  Many of these student athletes have been barred from participation and humiliated in the process.

Consider these three transgender student athletes, and their experiences:
•    Chase, a transgender high school boy, was interested in trying out for the boys’ golf team.  When he went to the coach to sign up for try outs, the coach told him to go to the girls’ gym to and talk to the coach of the girls’ team.
•    When Maria, a transgender high school girl, wanted to play on the girls’ volleyball team, the athletic director told her that a “boy” could not play on the girls’ team just because “he” wore dresses.
•    Patricia, a transgender woman playing on the women’s tennis team at her college, was only allowed to change clothes in a single-stall toilet on the other side of the campus, causing her to be late to practices and games.

The report provides detailed guidance about how to avoid these damaging practices by adopting proactive, comprehensive policies for including transgender students in high school and college sports.

Keelin Godsey, another transgender student athlete who faced many obstacles in high school and college, also shared his story in the report. Keelin was 18 when he began to realize he was transgender, but the thought of telling anyone was terrifying.

“I didn’t have the support system I needed and I didn’t know how it would impact my track and field career,” he said in the report. “I started researching rules and regulations for transgender athletes, and while I was able to find a policy from the International Olympic Committee, I couldn’t find anything that would apply to me at the collegiate level. I later found out it was because they didn’t have any policies.”

The report fills this void, providing detailed guidance for high schools and colleges based on the most up-to-date and reliable medical and legal information.

Please read On the Team, and make sure schools in your community receive a copy and adopt inclusive policies for transgender students.

With your help, we can put an end to the harmful isolation and marginalization of transgender athletes, and ensure that they are truly part of the team.

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