As of March 2021, more than 20 states across the nation are planning to pass legislation to ban transgender students from participating in college athletics.
Many of these bills would require transgender -athletes to disclose their biological sex and what surgeries they have undergone as a part of their transition. Additionally, these individuals would be subject to genital exams in order to prove that they are eligible to compete in their respective sports.
With regard to transgender women in particular, The state legislators in these 20 states want to ban transgender women from participating in college sports because they believe transgender women have an unfair physical advantage in their sports. Legislators claim that allowing transgender women, who were assigned male sex at birth, to compete with those assigned female at birth is counterintuitive to Title IX.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves echoed these beliefs over Twitter on March 4.
“I will sign our bill to protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities,” wrote Reeves in a Tweet. “The push for kids to adopt transgenderism is just wrong.”
Despite claims like these, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that transgender women have no advantage over biologically born females at any point within their transition.
Biological males have, on average, a 10-12% physical advantage over biological females. One genetic component of this that is believed to contribute to better athletic performance is the male hormone testosterone.
Despite this finding, other research has found alternative results.
“Higher levels of the male hormone testosterone are associated with better performance only in a very small number of athletic disciplines,” said Dr. Eric Vilain, a pediatrician and geneticist at Children’s National Hospital, in an interview with NPR.
Additionally, biological females produce higher levels of testosterone during menstruation. That being said, if higher testosterone levels lead to better performance, should we force women who are menstruating to stop participating in their sport for one to two weeks at a time? Using the same logic as those trying to prevent transgender women from competing, women who are menstruating would have an unfair advantage competing due to higher levels of testosterone.
Consistent with Vilain’s message, in 2017, Sports Medicine published a review of the available scientific literature on the performance of trans athletes, which found no evidence to suggest that transgender women and biological females have an athletic advantage at any stage in their transition.
Many of the lawmakers who plan to ban transgender women have not been able to provide an example of a situation within their state where transgender women caused problems within their sports. This would make sense, as according to the NCAA’s estimates, there are less than 1% of trans athletes participating in college sports.
Legislators’ efforts to ban transgender individuals from competition have not come without pushback from affected individuals. Recently, a group of individuals filed a lawsuit challenging the recent Idaho bill that discriminates against trans women.
One of the individuals a part of this lawsuit is Boise State University sophomore and cross-country athlete Lindsay Hecox. According to the Idaho Bill, she is now ineligible to participate in competition. Per NCAA rules, she is unable to participate in practices or be on the roster if she is ineligible for competition.
In an interview with Runner’s World, Hecox spoke on the inaccurate knowledge and misinformed legislators making these decisions.
“These laws diminish trans women to being just men pretending to be women, and these lawmakers have no idea about trans vocabulary and what it actually means,” said Hecox. “Their argument is that trans women have the same ability as cisgender men, which is not accurate. I’ve lost so much athletic ability (in my transition), and no one really thinks about that or understands that.”
Many athletes have taken it upon themselves to support their transgender teammates. This past March, more than 500 student athletes signed a letter sent to the NCAA demanding the NCAA stop hosting tournaments and competitions in states that ban transgender athletes from competing. Even more have taken to their personal social media.
“We, the undersigned NCAA student-athletes, are extremely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of action taken by the NCAA to recognize the dangers of hosting events in states that create a hostile environment for student-athletes,” athletes wrote in the letter. “It is imperative that we know we are safe and supported in the NCAA no matter where we travel to compete.”
If there are doctors and geneticists saying there is no biological advantage given to transgender women athletes and the students themselves are speaking out in support of their trans teammates and competitors, then what grounds do these legislators have to prevent these women from competing in their sports?