Transgender Athletes Begin Fight Against Sports Limits Bill

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — For Asher, being a member of his school’s track & field team was a year in the making.

After previously being discouraged from taking part, he found more support in 2021 and joined the team in time for competition this spring. One problem, however, remained.

Asher is transgender and identifies as male. His coach explained that the team for which he would compete -- boys or girls -- was out of the school’s hands; the athletic organization it belongs to would decide.

And it chose the girls.

“At the meet, I walked up to where the men were throwing and they were like, ‘Oh, you should be with the girls,’ and I was like, ‘OK, that didn’t feel great,’” he said. “And I went up to the girls and they said you shouldn’t be throwing with us, you should be throwing with the guys.

“It was just a feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere at the meet.”

His experience was one of several shared Tuesday night (March 30) in an online forum hosted by Equality North Carolina, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ+ community, to speak out against House Bill 358 and ahead of International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.

NC BILL IS LATEST THAT WOULD LIMIT TRANSGENDER SPORTS OPPORTUNITIES

On March 22, House Bill 358, which would limit athletic opportunities for transgender students at almost all middle school, high school and collegiate levels, was filed.

Titled the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” it would make law that, for participation in an athletic team or program, a student’s gender identity would not be considered and that it “shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

In short, a student who identifies as female but was born male would be prohibited from participating in female sports. It would also prevent an athletic association from filing a complaint against a school district over the prohibition of a student from participating under the gender with which they identify.

In an article from the Associated Press, Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union/Anson, said, “I do not want to wait until biological females are pushed out of female sports, and all of their records are broken, scholarships lost and benefits of excelling are diminishing before this is addressed.”

But that does not seem to mirror the experience of transgender students trying to join a sports team.

“This whole thing about masking it behind, pretending to be trans to get better scholarships or something? You can’t pretend to be a minority. It’s not something you can do,” said Elijah, a transgender male who also spoke in Tuesday’s forum about having to return to playing co-ed recreational soccer after pressure and questions about his gender identity.

The North Carolina bill is written in similar language to others signed into law in Arkansas and Mississippi, and was dropped in South Carolina. In all, more than half the U.S. states have had bills introduced in recent months that would limit or prohibit participation of transgender students.

“Young people all across this state, regardless of gender identity, deserve the opportunity to experience the benefits of being part of a sporting community -- especially when trans youth already face disproportionate barriers to success in learning environments,” Rebby Kern, Equality NC Education Policy director, said in a press release.

“Equality NC believes that we can find a way to protect transgender youth AND ensure that all youth, regardless of gender identity, have the opportunity to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, self-discipline, and all the other lessons that sports provide.”

WHAT NCHSAA AND NCISAA TRANSGENDER POLICIES ARE IN PLACE?

If it became law, the bill would reinforce the rule adopted by the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association. It states that students may only participate in sports that match the gender on their birth certificate -- although girls are allowed to play football.

And it would supersede the policy passed in May 2019 by the far larger North Carolina High School Athletic Association and its inclusion of transgender athletes.

Athletes at NCHSAA schools who identify to a different gender than on their birth certificate must complete a Gender Identity Request form, which is then considered by the Gender Identity Committee, a panel made up of a member of the NCHSAA Board of Directors, a school administrator, and a physician and licensed mental health professional that are familiar with transgender care.

As part of that form, students are asked to provide documentation about their gender identification, verification from health professionals and a list of any medications relative to gender identity that the student is taking.

The site TransAthlete.com lists the NCHSAA’s decision in the middle of three tiers of policies for high school students throughout the country. At its last update, it lists 17 states with “friendly” guidelines for inclusion. North Carolina is in the next tier, which requires “medical ‘proof’ and/or invasive disclosures” for those seeking transgender inclusion.

“The board and subcommittee believed that it was important for a student requesting a waiver to provide proof of consistently living a public life as the gender they are requesting approval to participate in,” NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said this week in an email. “While medicines taken are not necessarily required to prove consistent public gender identification, they can provide the Gender Request Committee with information about the student’s intentions and consistent presentation as a particular gender.”

While it does not disclose its decisions, Tucker said the NCHSAA has received less than 10 requests since it was formed in 2019.

Katie, a mother of a transgender daughter, told the story in Tuesday’s forum of sending her child to a new school, and the line of questioning that followed.

“I called the middle school she would be attending and said, ‘I have a trans daughter who’s going to be coming there. I need you all to be ready, keep her safe,” she said, “and that was the only question the principal had at that time for me, was ‘Was she going to play sports?’ And at that point I didn’t know, but I thought, ‘What a strange question.’

“My worry is if she’s going to be safe walking down the hallway, and you’re concerned she’s going to want to play sports.”