Transgender Females in Female Sports: What is Fair?

Transgender Females in Female Sports: What is Fair?


Very few issues in America have sparked greater debate than the one about transgender females competing in female sports. Emotions are high on both sides of the issue, and many people are just not able to have a civil conversation about the facts of this issue. However, in this post, no daggers will be thrown and there are no hidden agendas. In fact, the only goal is to help high school students look at this issue objectively and begin to develop an informed viewpoint on this topic. As with all of our posts, this is not Twitter. Responses should remain civil and respectful. This is a controversial subject and there are important points on each side of the debate. Finally, this is a complex issue, so this turned out to be my longest post ever. Ready, set, let’s go.

Prevalence in America: In recent years, the number of individuals who identify as transgender has increased from 0.3% of the population in 2009 to 0.6% of the population in 2019. In other words, the amount of individuals who identify as transgender has doubled in about 10 years. The CDC also reported that this phenomenon is reported much higher in younger people (13-20 year olds and 21-30 year olds) than older Americans. This has created many changes in our society. Perhaps the area that has created the most debate is transgender females (people born as a male and later identified as a female) competing against females in sports.

Legal Decisions and Policies: The US Supreme Court has never directly ruled on this issue of transgender females competing in sports, leaving the policies up to the states or governing bodies. The closest statement we have on federal policy came from the Obama administration in 2016, stating that, “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.” Falling in line with this policy, the NCAA allows transgender women to compete in female sports after a full year of hormone replacement therapy. The same is true of the International Olympic Committee. At the high school level, 18 states allow transgender students to compete in affirmation of their gender identities. In other words, a school must allow an athlete to compete with the gender that they identify. Conversely, ten states only allow an athlete to compete with the gender that is on their birth certificate. Sixteen other states give the schools the discretion to operate on a case-by-case basis, using some type of committee review process, and/or require transgender girls to complete one year of hormone replacement therapy. Six states have no policy at all.

Scientific Differences Between Male and Females: It is important to understand that male and female bodies are different. There are differences in chromosomes, hormones, bone structure, muscle mass, and later in puberty, secondary sex characteristics. For centuries, doctors have been able to correctly determine the gender of a dead corpse based on these factors. These physiological differences lead to performance differences in sports. This means that males run faster, lift greater amounts of weight, jump higher, swim faster, throw harder… This is not an opinion. This is fact. Dr. Myron Genel, professor emeritus at Yale University, a pediatric endocrinologist points to a 30% difference in muscle mass between the sexes.

Anecdotally, we know this to be true. For example, look at any high school record board where males and females compete, and you will note the distinct differences. Likewise, if you compare Olympic records between males and females, you will see the same distinct differences. This doesn’t mean that all males run faster than all females or can lift more weight. Ronda Rousey could probably dominate half the male population in MMA fighting. However, it does mean that Ronda Rousey knows that she is not as strong or as fast as male MMA fighters who likewise strive to be the best. Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of all time, acknowledged on national television that she could not beat any male tennis player in the top 200. She said, “Men’s tennis and women’s tennis are almost completely different sports. If I played Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in maybe 10 minutes. Men are a lot faster, they serve harder, they hit harder. It’s just a completely different game.” This is why high school, college and professional sports are separated by gender. This separation allows males and females to compete equally on the playing field.  We should all be able to agree on these facts before moving on to the high profile stories below.

High Profile Case in High School: Two transgender females athletes in Connecticut quickly became the highest profile case at the high school level. Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood competed in track against other females in high school. Miller declines most interviews, but Yearwood is more open about her story. She said that her parents required her to play a sport every season and she chose track. In middle school, she competed against the boys. Before her 8th grade year, she told her parents that she was trans. When she began high school in the fall of 2016, she competed against other girls, winning the state championship in the 100 and 200 as a freshman. In her sophomore year, she and Miller finished in first and second place at the state meet in the women’s 100 meter dash. Miller also won the 200 meter dash.

After their victories in 2018, parents of the females who were defeated in that race filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) to keep these transgender females from competing in future female state championships. Connecticut stood by their position: “The purpose of our organization is about giving kids an opportunity to develop social, emotional, cognitive, physical and mental health and well-being,” says CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini. “We believe our inclusive policy — that does align with federal and state law — gives the best opportunity for all kids to benefit from those aspects of participation in sports.” The case was dismissed by a Connecticut judge because the 2020 state meet was actually canceled due to Covid, Because the transgender girls had graduated, the judge felt no obligation to rule on this case. However, without a court ruling, the next time a transgender female wants to compete in female sports, this will soon become an issue again.

High Profile Case in College Sports: At the collegiate level, Lia Thomas has become the highest profile case. In 2017 and 2018, Lia competed as a male on the male University of Pennsylvania swim team. In May of 2019, Lia began taking hormone replacement therapy. She followed the rules set up by the NCAA and in 2021, she began competing as a female against other females. In March of 2022, Lia won a national championship by winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle event. It should also be noted that she did not win all of her events at the NCAA Championships. She finished 5th in the 200 freestyle and 10th in the 100 freestyle. Lia is out of eligibility and will not be able to compete again in college. She has not yet determined if she will attempt to compete in the Olympics.

It should also be noted that Lia followed the policy put forth by the NCAA, stating that after a year of hormone replacement therapy, she could compete against other women in the women’s division. However, in January, the NCAA backed off on their fully inclusive stance. The  NCAA has effectively “punted” this decision back to each individual sport, allowing those governing bodies to make their own decision on how to handle this issue. This means that we could potentially have 30 different policies in 30 different sports.

As has been previously noted, these stories have created a great deal of controversy and a lot of debate. While we have had transgender individuals for hundreds of years, (earlier referred to as transexuals or as gender identity disorder), we have not seen the sheer volume of these cases until a few years ago. This means that this topic is relatively new in mainstream America. For example, a senator recently asked a supreme court nominee, “What is a woman?” Her response was, “I can’t answer that question.” If she can’t answer that question, who can?

Next, let’s explore the pro and con arguments on each side of this issue. Afterwards, we will ask you the question, “Should transgender females be allowed to compete against female athletes?

Pro Arguments: This is the new civil rights issue of our day. Trans people should be afforded the same opportunities to participate and compete on the same playing field. We, as a society, have continually been exclusive, and we need to become more inclusive and accepting. The definition of what it means to be a woman is evolving and we need policies and laws that support that inclusivity. Sex and gender are not the same thing. If we are going to call a transgender female a female, then she should be able to compete against other females. The suicide rate in the trans community is very high and we need to do everything in our society to be more tolerant of this freedom. Finally, hormone replacement therapy lowers the testosterone levels and creates a fair or nearly fair playing field between transgender athletes and other female athletes. You can’t just highlight one or two elite transgender athletes who win, and say this competition is unfair. Many trans females compete and do not win.

Con Arguments: There are distinct differences between males and females. Simply identifying as a female does not mean that those difference get voided. The recent standard set by the NCAA and IOC (international Olympic Committee) says that a trans woman should be able to compete against other females after a year of hormone replacement therapy. However, in September 2019, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm published a landmark study titled “Muscle Strength, Size, and Composition Following 12 Months of Gender-affirming Treatment in Transgender Individuals.” It concluded that following one year of testosterone suppression and cross-hormone therapy, transgender women had not seen a significant decrease in muscle mass. “The anticipated reduction of muscle mass and strength was very moderate among transgender women,” says Dr. Tommy Lundberg, a researcher who began work on the study in 2015. “The reduction in muscle size was only 5%. And, of course, this is relevant because the difference in muscle size between men and women is about 30% or so.” This study demonstrates that trans females competing against females is not fair. Title IX was created to ensure women were given the same opportunity as men to compete in sports on a level playing field. Including transgender females is an afront to Title IX and the females who cannot fairly compete against a transgender woman.

Joe’s Perspective: “Fairness” is not one of the character traits included in this curriculum. Perhaps this was a mistake. People need to strive for a fair society and sports should strive for fairness. From all the information that I can read and see, including transgender females in females sports is unfair to women. So, to me, the question is, how do we protect the opportunities of women while giving trans females the same opportunity? Logically, I would say, allow transgender females to compete against males. This solution creates the least amount of logistic issues. Next option, maybe we should create a separate category for just transgender athletes. This sound easy, but at this point in time, we don’t have sufficient numbers to hold separate events. Third option, maybe we should allow trans women to compete against other females and use an * to denote a transgender female. “Winning the girls 100 meter dash is Sarah… & winning the transgender female dash is Janet.” Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t work with team sports like basketball. At this point, these are the best solutions that I have. What say you?

Your Turn: Without being mean or rude, what proposed solution do you have about transgender females competing in sports? Explain your rationale.

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