Amidst a week of victories for transgender rights activists, transgender high school students in Minnesota can play on boys' or girls' sports teams "consistent with the student's gender-related identification," according to a policy passed today by the state's High School League. The policy, which will go into effect with the 2015–2016 academic year, also applies to certain extracurricular activities.
Overcoming fierce opposition from critics, the league voted 18-1 on the policy that "allows participation for all students regardless of their gender identity or expression in an environment free from discrimination with an equal opportunity for participation in athletics and fine arts." The policy outlines a process for transgender students to apply to a team, including providing evidence of their gender identity and a "written statement from an appropriate health-care professional."
The greatest point of contention in a packed hearing today was male-to-female athletes playing on girls' teams. Critics warned that transgender girls could use their XY genetics, having developed larger muscles and bones, to give them a competitive edge in strength and speed over cisgender athletes.
In that vein, the Minnesota Child Protection League took out a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in November. The ad questioned if the policy would cause "the end of girls' sports?" Featuring a photo of a girl with a baseball bat, the ad included text suggesting her dreams of a sports scholarship could be dashed after being displaced by a transgender female player, which the ad calls a "male," and then adds, "and now she may have to shower with him."
However, others have said these types of concerns are overblown.
A 2011 National Collegiate Athletic Association report responds to beliefs that female transgender athletes pretend to be women or have a physical edge. "These assumptions are not well founded," says the NCAA report. This is particularly true for transgender girls who start medically transitioning during adolescence. The report explains that "their participation in athletics as girls does not raise the same equity concerns that arise when transgender women transition after puberty."
Minnesota is the 33rd state to approve a transgender-inclusive policy for high school athletes, according to MPR News.
On Tuesday, the Shenendehowa Board of Education in New York state voted to let transgender students use the bathrooms of their choice, and Miami-Dade County's Board of Commissioners passed a law banning discrimination against transgender people. Again on the same day, Toledo City Council approved an ordinance to add transgender people to those protected by the city's hate-crime statute.
Critics and opponents of the athletic policy in Minnesota echoed common themes in transgender rights battles in local jurisdictions across the country. On the one hand, LGBT supporters lobbying for protections against discrimination in public facilities — from schools and sport to housing and employment — say these are matters of simple civil rights of equal access to public accommodations. Critics, often organized by conservative religious groups, claim that transgender rights policies will encourage males who wear female clothing to perpetrate crimes in girls' locker rooms and bathrooms.
That concern was reflected by a the Liberty Council, a conservative group that sent a letter to the Minnesota High School League on Wednesday condemning the proposal. "As a result of sharing locker room space, the proposed policy would facilitate a gross intrusion of privacy, particularly for female student athletes," the letter says. "The use of shared facilities, where some degree of nudity is foreseeable, raises safety concerns that should be obvious."