Transgender cases present challenges for policy-makers
In a separate meeting October 29, NCAA staff and experts from the NCLR and other sport organizations discussed the issue of transgender student-athletes in intercollegiate athletics.
Last year, a Bates College track and field student-athlete “came out” as transgender to the campus community and to fellow New England Small College Athletic Conference schools. The 11-time all-American thrower, who was born female, announced a preference to be referred to as male. The senior changed his name to Keelin Godsey (from Kelly) and requested that the male pronoun be used in casual conversation, as well in school press releases and publications, by professors, coaches and teammates.
The NCAA currently has no specific policy related to transgender student-athletes. Rather, the Association follows the gender classification of student-athletes’ state identification documents such as driver’s licenses and voter registration, and relies on the institution’s designation of that individual. NCAA rules require a team to be classified as a mixed team if a member of the opposite gender is permitted by an institution to compete on a gender-specific team. The team would retain that classification for the remainder of the academic year, rendering it ineligible for women’s championships.
Participants in the October 29 meeting used the International Olympic Committee’s policy to frame the discussion. The IOC requires athletes to wait two years after sexual-reassignment surgery before returning to competition, due primarily to competitive-equity concerns.
Members also discussed alternatives, such as an approach in Canada that relies on a transgender athlete’s level of testosterone as a way of determining whether a competitive advantage exists. Meeting participants also suggested linking participation to a time period after hormonal treatment begins because not all transgender people undergo reassignment surgery. In addition, participants raised concerns about the difficulties of relying on state-issued documents for establishing gender because policies and processes for modifying them vary from state to state.
Mary Wilfert, NCAA associate director of education services, stressed that the national office is in the early stages of determining a direction on the issue and will incorporate feedback from meeting participants. Wilfert said next steps could include establishing an advisory board.
“As the NCAA moves forward in these discussions, we will frame our work by our commitment to fair play and to promoting student-athlete well being,” she said.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.