So-Called “Save Women’s Sports Act” Flies in the Face of NCAA Guidelines on Transgender Athletes

This week, Ohio legislators are again using their bully pulpit to attack transgender Ohioans. This time, they’re going after transgender women and girls who participate in sports. The bill attempts to erase transgender women and girls from high school and college sports. 

Backers of the bill, including extremist anti-LGBTQ group, Citizens for Community Values, claim that transgender women and girls in sports threaten the integrity of and fairness of women’s and girls’ athletics. 

First thing’s first: Trans women are women. Period. They must have the same access to gender equality as anyone else. 

Every major athletics governing body, from the Ohio High School Athletic Association to the International Olympic Committee, refutes the claims made by CCV and the legislators behind this latest attack on transgender athletes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which oversees collegiate athletics in the United States and whose member universities in Ohio would be directly impacted by this bill, already has an extensive policy supporting transgender athletes

In that policy, the NCAA responds to arguments similar to those made by CCV and Reps. Powell and Stolzfus by saying:

“Concern about creating an “unfair competitive advantage” on sex-separated teams is one of the most often cited reasons for resistance to the participation of transgender student-athletes. This concern is cited most often in discussions about transgender women competing on a women’s team. Some advocates for gender equality in college sports are concerned that allowing transgender women—that is, male-to-female transgender athletes who were born male, but who identify as female—to compete on women’s teams will take away opportunities for women, or that transgender women will have a competitive advantage over other women competitors. 

These concerns are based on three assumptions: one, that transgender women are not “real” women and therefore not deserving of an equal competitive opportunity; two, that being born with a male body automatically gives a transgender woman an unfair advantage when competing against non-transgender women; and three, that men might be tempted to pretend to be transgender in order to compete in competition with women. 

These assumptions are not well-founded. First, the decision to transition from one gender to the other—to align one’s external gender presentation with one’s internal sense of gender identity—is a deeply significant and difficult choice that is made only after careful consideration and for the most compelling of reasons. Gender identity is a core aspect of a person’s identity, and it is just as deep-seated, authentic, and real for a transgender person as for others.

Second, some people fear that transgender women will have an unfair advantage over non-transgender women. It is important to place that fear in context. 

Transgender girls who medically transition at an early age do not go through male puberty, and therefore their participation in athletics as girls does not raise the same equity concerns that arise when transgender women transition after puberty. 

Transgender women display a great deal of physical variation, just as there is a great deal of natural variation in physical size and ability among non-transgender women and men. Many people may have a stereotype that all transgender women are unusually tall and have large bones and muscles. But that is not true. A male-to-female transgender woman may be small and slight, even if she is not on hormone blockers or taking estrogen. It is important not to overgeneralize. The assumption that all male-bodied people are taller, stronger, and more highly skilled in a sport than all female-bodied people is not accurate.

It is also important to know that any strength and endurance advantages a transgender woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of estrogen or testosterone-suppression therapy. According to medical experts on this issue, the assumption that a transgender woman competing on a women’s team would have a competitive advantage outside the range of performance and competitive advantage or disadvantage that already exists among female athletes is not supported by evidence. 

Finally, fears that men will pretend to be female to compete on a women’s team are unwarranted given that in the entire 40-year history of “sex verification” procedures in international sports competitions, no instances of such “fraud” have been revealed. Instead, rather than identifying men who are trying to fraudulently compete as women, “sex verification” tests have been misused to humiliate and unfairly exclude women with intersex conditions. The apparent failure of such tests to serve their stated purpose of deterring fraud—and the terrible damage they have caused to individual women athletes—should be taken into account when developing policies for the inclusion of transgender athletes. 

Educators in collegiate athletics programs must develop thoughtful and informed practices that provide opportunities for all students, including transgender students, to participate in sports. These practices must be based on sound medical science, which shows that male-to-female transgender athletes do not have any automatic advantage over other women. These practices must also be based on the educational values of sport and the reasons why sports are included as a vital component of the educational environment: promoting the physical and psychological well-being of all students and teaching students the values of equal opportunity, participation, inclusion, teamwork, discipline, and respect for diversity”

The arguments from supporters of the so-called “Save Women’s Sports Act” are not made with the intention of making sports fair for women and girls, but to attack and erase transgender Ohioans. The medical and sports professionals in athletics governing bodies are best placed to make decisions regarding transgender inclusion in sports. Instead of allowing these experts to do their jobs, CCV and anti-LGBTQ legislators are trying to impose their harmful ideology on schools, universities, and athletes. 

High school and college sports provide immeasurable benefits to those who participate in them. The Ohio Legislature should be making school sports more accessible to our state’s young people–not excluding them for cheap political gain.