A group of high-profile women athletes and women’s sports advocates is taking on the contentious issue of transgender girls and women in sports by proposing federal legislation to exempt girls’ and women’s competitive sports from President Joe Biden’s recent executive order that mandates blanket inclusion for all transgender female athletes.
In the Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, signed on Inauguration Day, the Biden administration said that any school that receives federal funding must allow biological boys who self-identify as girls onto girls’ sports teams or face action from the federal government.
But the group of women’s sports leaders, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova, several Olympic gold medalists and five former presidents of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is asking Congress and the Biden administration to limit the participation of transgender girls and women who “have experienced all or part of male puberty (which is the scientific justification for separate sex sport),” while accommodating and honoring their sports participation in other ways. Options could include separate heats, additional events or divisions and/or the handicapping of results.
“We fully support the Biden executive order, ending LGBT discrimination throughout society, including employment, banking, family law and public accommodations,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a Title IX attorney and one of the leaders of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, told USA TODAY Sports in an exclusive interview. “Competitive sports, however, are akin to pregnancy and medical testing; these areas require a science-based approach to trans inclusion. Our aim has been on protecting the girls’ and women’s competitive categories, while crafting accommodations for trans athletes into sport wherever possible.
“While the details of President Biden’s executive order remain fuzzy, asking women — no, requiring them — to give up their hard-won rights to compete and be recognized in elite sport, with equal opportunities, scholarships, prize money, publicity, honor and respect, does the cause of transgender inclusion no favors,” Hogshead-Makar said. “It engenders justifiable resentment, setting back the cause of equality throughout society. And either extreme position – full inclusion or full exclusion in sport – will make life much harder for transgender people. We must make sport a welcoming place for all.”
While the controversy over transgender girls and women in sports is not new, the issue bubbled to the surface in the United States a few years ago when two transgender girls were allowed to compete in state track and field meets in Connecticut, winning a combined 15 girls’ state indoor and outdoor championship races from 2017-19 and highlighting the piecemeal nature of state laws governing the issue.
According to the working group, 10 states require males and females to participate in high school sports according to their birth sex, thereby prohibiting participation in girls’ sports by transgender girls, whether or not they have begun male puberty or have had hormone therapy.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia require the inclusion of trans girls in girls’ sports without regard to the extent to which they may retain the male-linked physical traits that otherwise justify excluding males from female sports on competitive fairness and safety grounds.
Another seventeen states have adopted a policy similar to that of the NCAA, which allows trans girls and women to compete after taking gender-affirming hormones for a year. And six states have no policy regarding gender identity and sports whatsoever.
“There have been so many different approaches to this issue, from all-inclusion no matter what to all-exclusion no matter what,” Navratilova said in a phone interview Monday morning. “We just wanted to find a better way of moving forward. We know there’s going to be somebody that’s not happy but we’re trying to make it as fair as possible. Now with transgender athletes, the rules are not clear. We need some clarity, we need some unity. We want to stay civil in the conversation and move the ball forward.”
Added Olympic gold medalist and Title IX advocate Donna de Varona: “We’re interested in starting a dialogue and creating policies where we can find a solution. No one else is doing this. No one else is focusing on a solution. The extreme positions are keeping us from focusing on a fair, science-based solution. All of us have benefited from sport and we’re just trying to help.”
In addition to Navratilova, Hogshead-Makar and de Varona, who was the first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and now serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the working group includes Donna Lopiano, the former longtime CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation; Doriane Coleman, professor of law and co-director of the Center for Sports Law & Policy at Duke Law School; and Tracy Sundlun, an Olympic track and field coach and founding board member of the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation.
Supporters of their effort include transgender runner and researcher Joanna Harper, transgender tennis pioneer Renee Richards, tennis standout and broadcaster Pam Shriver, Olympic track and field gold medalists Benita Fitzgerald Mosley and Sanya Richards-Ross, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, Olympic diving gold medalist Micki King and pioneering race car driver Lyn St. James. Male supporters include Olympic standouts Edwin Moses, Greg Louganis and Willie Banks.
“We understand that this is a complicated issue and that one conversation won’t do it,” Hogshead-Makar said. “Thus, proposing federal legislation to protect biological females and create a women’s sports environment that is welcoming, respectful and celebratory for trans girls and women is only one small step.
“Right now, trans groups and those supporting protection of biological girls and women are not talking. They are in court trying to win on their respective extreme positions. We tried to formally arrange those conversations for over a year to no avail. This needs to change and we have to just keep at it.”