Transgender Athletes: Accommodations and Considerations

Updated: Nov 17

As schools strive to create an environment that is inclusive of all students, it is important to consider the needs of transgender athletes in physical education programs and sporting activities. There are a number of accommodations that can be made in order to ensure that transgender athletes have equal opportunities to participate. Transgender students make up a very small percentage of the student population, and an even smaller group of transgender students want to participate in sports. Each state has its own laws regarding eligibility for particular teams.

This issue has been around for years, particularly in Olympic sports where hormone testing and DNA testing are done to ban athletes from participating in women's events because of the unfair advantage that men would have. In general, most men still have a physical advantage over most women.

However, instead of listening to political pundits on the issue, we should all consider the following questions:

  • Does a third-grade transgender girl have a physical advantage over a cisgender girl of the same age?

  • Does a fifteen-year-old transgender girl, who has been taking a puberty-blocking drug for three years, still have a physical advantage?

  • Does barring transgender athletes from participating on a school team that matches their gender identity amount to sex discrimination under Title IX?

These are the questions that lawmakers, courts, and schools are grappling with. There is a political divide in the United States over whether transgender girls should be allowed to compete on girls' sports teams. Some states have enacted bans on transgender girls participating in girls' teams, while other states have proposed similar bans. The courts tend to focus on the harm done to individual students when they are not allowed to participate, balancing their welfare against the lack of evidence that the individual transgender student would have an unfair advantage over cisgender students. There is a debate about whether transgender girls should be allowed to compete in female sports. Some people argue that they will take away opportunities from cisgender girls and that they have an unfair physical advantage. However, there is no evidence to support these claims. In fact, since transgender athletes have been allowed to compete, the number of cisgender girls participating in sports has actually increased. It is likely that the best course of action is to evaluate each athlete on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the sport in question and the athlete's individual circumstances. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) used to have rules that said transgender athletes had to have a certain level of hormones in their bodies. But they got rid of that last year because there is no proof that having more testosterone gives transgender athletes an unfair advantage. Now it's up to the organization overseeing each individual sport to decide if a transgender athlete can compete. Some organizations, like the International Federation of Swimming and the International Rugby League, have already made their own policies. The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has said that it will follow whatever the individual sports organizations decide.


Gender Identity vs. Sex Assigned at Birth

It is important to understand the difference between gender identity and sex assigned at birth. An individual’s sex assigned at birth is based on their anatomy and chromosomes. Gender identity, on the other hand, is an individual’s internal sense of their own gender. A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex assigned at birth. For example, a person with a female sex assigned at birth may identify as a male.

Gender expression refers to the way in which a person expresses their gender identity. This may be through clothing, hairstyle, voice, or behavior. A person’s gender expression does not necessarily need to match their gender identity. For example, a person who identifies as a male may express their gender in a feminine way.


Considerations for Transgender Athletes in K-12 Schools

There are a number of things to consider when accommodating transgender athletes in K-12 schools. These include:

  • Allowing transgender athletes to participate in accordance with their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth;

  • Providing access to bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the athlete’s gender identity;

  • Using the athlete’s preferred name and pronouns;

  • Protecting the confidentiality of the athlete’s transgender status; and

  • Providing training for coaches and staff on working with transgender athletes.

Anti-Discrimination Training in K-12 Schools

In order to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students, it is important for K-12 schools to provide anti-discrimination training. This training should cover a variety of topics, including working with transgender athletes. Anti-discrimination training can help coaches and staff better understand the needs of transgender athletes and how to create an inclusive environment for all students.

If you’re interested in learning more about K-12 transgender athletes and discrimination consider taking our online training to avoid K-12 sports discrimination. The course will provide you with an overview of the laws that protect transgender athletes, as well as practical tips for creating an inclusive environment in K-12 sports.

Creating an inclusive environment for all students is important for schools. When considering transgender athletes in K-12 physical education programs and sporting activities, there are a number of accommodations that can be made in order to ensure that they have equal opportunities to participate. By taking into account the considerations outlined above, schools can provide a supportive environment for all students. This is not an issue you need to address right now unless you have a transgender student in your school or district who wants to participate in athletics. Eligibility will be determined by state law. McGrath Training Solutions has compiled a summary of each state’s current laws on the issue, along with Title IX regulations and their changes. As with all issues related to Title IX, we provide an array of services for organizations and school districts including Title IX and state law updates (blogs and newsletters), training, policy reviews, compliance checks, climate surveys, and reviews of best practices. We can help make sure your organization is always in compliance with state and federal laws, and that you provide a safe and inclusive environment for your staff and students.

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