High School Sports: Open to All?

December 3, 2021
Emma-Rose Blacher

Cape Town, South Africa

Class of 2022

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2021 wasn’t off to a great start with more anti-transgender bills passed in the United States than any year before. All this just four months after Biden signed an executive order confirming equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals, which consisted of inclusion on the sporting field. However, over thirty-three states have pushed back against the President’s order and have collectively passed over 100 bills restricting the involvement of transgender athletes, particularily targeting transgender female athletes (biological male transitioned to become female) in high school sporting divisions. International regulations, magnitude of biological advantage, effectiveness of hormone therapy and impact on transgender teens have created a fiery debate surrounding the validity of these laws and ultimately poses the question: should transgender female youth be permitted to compete within female-specific sporting divisions at a high school level?

Many have come forward with anecdotes of being put at a disadvantage competing against transgender females. Selina Soule, a female track athlete from Connecticut, spoke out in a Fox News interview about the unfair advantage ‘biological males’ have in the female division of sporting competitions. As this issue has spread to the internet, the opinions of those who are unaware of the research behind this debate, or lack thereof, begin to corrupt the minds of others, resulting in widespread transphobic ideology. Many have taken to social media by using the hashtag #BidenErasedWomen, implying that his actions promoting transgender rights will suppress the rights of women. The presence of the media in this debate has the power to spread unsupported and potentially destructive opinions regarding the transgender community.

The argument from those combatting transgender females’ right to compete in female sporting leagues is with regards to the concern for the conservation of fair competition in sports. Scientific reports on male-to-female sex reassignment offer a fact-based response to these claims. Testosterone is considered the benchmark for male advantage. As standing policies state, testosterone levels should be regulated to equate athletic advantage. On the other hand, studies have been conducted to consider whether or not hormone therapy is an adequate method in properly adjusting biological advantage to the equal level of the reassigned sex. A study conducted by Gooren and Bunck, published in 2004, concluded that levels of testosterone and hemoglobin in transgender females would be well within the limits of regular cis-gender female production one year after sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. Additionally, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) revised their policy on transgender female involvement within a female division to include specific guidelines for participants that had transitioned from male to female, including a four-year identification as realized gender; as well as suppressed testosterone levels that have been recorded to be below 10 nmol/L for a minimum of 12 months prior to competition.

As it stands, only 0.7% of teenagers publicly identify as transgender, and many transgender teens are discouraged from participating in sports, meaning that this concern involves a group of people that cannot greatly impact the world of sport. Denying an already marginalized group of people acceptance into another aspect of society sends a negative message to the population. This supports the reasoning that cases of this sort are very rare and discriminatory laws, such as this one that targets a minority, may do more harm as the impact of the issue is overestimated. Among high-school teenagers, rates of suicide ideation and depression have spiked significantly after the COVID pandemic hit. Additionally, The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which conducted a study that included participants from the United States of America, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands found that 41% of the participants in the study had attempted to take their own life. These statistics pose great concern for the wellbeing of transgender youth as these rates are likely to rise with increased bullying and harassment in school environments, which was experienced by 51% of participants due to their gender identification. Sport, which can aid well-being and happiness, should be embraced by students of the LGBTQ+ community who may be struggling with mental health afflictions such as anxiety and depression. Furthermore, a movement that excludes transgender students from sporting activity has the power to instill transphobic ideology in teenagers at the high school level, which can go on to create a transphobic society later in life. In fact, many consider this bill a gateway to larger avenues of discrimination.

Allowing transgender youth athletes to participate in the high school sports world helps improve their mental health - possibly improving the dismal statistics of suicide attempts - as well as sends a message to the wider high school community that the transgender community is accepted and acknowledged in society and should not be discriminated against. The impact that comes with refusing this community the opportunity to participate in school sports could have detrimental effects. Considering all of the above, it is clear that transgender female (and male) youth athletes should be given the right to participate in high school sporting divisions to promote mental health and trans-inclusivity.

Emma-Rose Blacher is a BBG from BBYO: South Africa, and she has been involved in many regional theatre productions in South Africa.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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