The National Collegiate Athletic Association has revised its policy on transgender athletes, letting the governing body for each sport set standards for trans participation — but it’s raising concerns among both supporters and opponents of trans inclusion.
The policy focuses on testosterone levels for trans women. For the past decade, the NCAA has allowed trans women who’ve completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment to compete alongside cisgender women. Under the new policy, approved Wednesday by the NCAA Board of Governors at the group’s national convention, the national governing body for each sport will determine what testosterone level a trans woman must have to be included in women’s sports.
If there is no national governing body policy, the regulations of the international governing body will apply, and if the international group doesn’t address the issue, International Olympic Committee standards will be followed.
The new policy, effective immediately, puts standards for collegiate sports in line with those recently adopted by the IOC and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the NCAA noted in a press release. But there are those who fear this will create a confusing patchwork of policies.
“This update complicates the NCAA policy in a way that I don't believe they are equipped to handle,” triathlete Chris Mosier, a trans man, told ESPN. “Given that many NGBs have not created policies for transgender athletes and that policies vary from sport NGB to NGB, tracking compliance is going to be a nightmare for the NCAA. This creates many different standards for trans athletes.”
The Human Rights Campaign is “still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete,” JoDee Winterhof, vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a press release.
Anne Lieberman, director of policy and programs for Athlete Ally, added that as advocates “learn more about how the NCAA’s new guidelines for transgender participation will be implemented, we will keep pushing the NCAA to center the lived experiences of college athletes.”
Meanwhile, the new policy does not fully satisfy opponents of trans inclusion. “The new NCAA policy sounds a lot like the old one,” former Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a member of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, told ESPN. “The board hasn’t resolved the intractable balancing between fairness, playing safety and inclusion. They failed women by not prioritizing fairness.”
Also, HRC, Athlete Ally, and numerous other LGBTQ-supportive organizations signed on to a letter, released Wednesday, calling on the NCAA to include comprehensive nondiscrimination language in its new constitution, which also will be voted on at the convention. A draft of the constitution, unveiled in November, stripped the document of nondiscrimination language that would protect LGBTQ+ athletes, women, and people of color.
“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said in the release. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen nondiscrimination language in their constitution to ensure the association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat.”
“We are deeply committed to ensuring the health, safety, and success of all college athletes, and this includes transgender and nonbinary athletes,” Lieberman said. “Including comprehensive nondiscrimination language in the constitution is a core piece of this work.”
The groups also raised the “patchwork” issue concerning the constitution. “While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter reads. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies. The health, safety, and well-being of every athlete is paramount, and a particular challenge for transgender athletes who have to contend with discriminatory laws that are being enacted in states across the country.”
The letter point outs that several states have “passed legislation that undermines the rights and protections of marginalized groups, from anti-abortion laws that undermine the rights of people who can become pregnant, to voting disenfranchisement laws that target and disproportionately impact communities of color, to anti-critical race theory legislation, to anti-transgender laws that ban trans participation in youth sports outright. Repeated attempts by organizations and individuals to fight against inclusive interpretations of Title IX make clear that the NCAA must be an active partner in the fight for equality.”
The NCAA has spoken out against anti-trans discrimination previously, “committing to holding championships only in states that are ‘safe, healthy, and free from discrimination’” in response to North Carolina’s 2016 passage of an anti-trans law, since repealed, the letter notes.
“Our request is simple and straightforward,” the missive continues. “The NCAA should put non-discrimination language with enumerated categories in its new constitution as it did with its previous version with the clear disaggregation of gender identity.”
In addition to HRC and Athlete Ally, signers of the letter include the American School Health Association, American Federation of Teachers, Athlete Ally, Equality Federation, GLAAD, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, GLSEN, Lambda Legal, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Education Association, National Women's Law Center, SAGE, School Social Work Association of America, and the Trevor Project.