a gender participation policy in 2016. It does not provide guidance for transgender boys, but lays out criteria for transgender girls. For example, it includes testimony from family members and teachers attesting that athletes are living as transgender as well as verification from a medical professional and one year of hormone therapy.
‘An easy target’ in Iowa
Transgender women and girls in Iowa do not have the opportunity play for the sports teams that match their gender identities. In March, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed a law that bans them from doing so. It applies to public and private K-12 schools and community colleges as well as colleges and universities affiliated with the NCAA and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Joining Reynolds in the Iowa capitol rotunda on the day of the bill’s signing was Ainsley Erzen, an Iowa high school track star and an outspoken proponent of banning transgender girls from girls’ sports.
“The message that women are so much more than a hormone level, that the things girls love are worth protecting and their hard work and dedication is recognized and their dreams can become a reality,” Erzen said.
In its handbook about inclusion of transgender student athletes, the NCAA quotes a leading physician, who refutes the notion of competitive advantage for trans girls and women:
“Transgender student-athletes fall within the spectrum of physical traits found in athletes of their transitioned gender, allowing them to compete fairly and equitably,” said Dr. Nick Gorton, a physician who treats transgender men and women.
“It worries me that this bill is needed at all. It’s hard to imagine how anyone who cares about the rights of women and girls could support anything less,” said Reynolds. “No amount of talent, training or effort on their part can make up for urgent link the natural, physical advantages males have over females.”
“Once we recognize that transgender young people are part of school communities across the United States, educational leaders have a responsibility to ensure that these students have access to equal opportunities in all academic and extracurricular activities in a safe and respectful school environment.”
Damian Thompson of Iowa Safe Schools, a statewide anti-bullying organization, agrees that there’s no need for the ban – for different reasons.
“The way the rhetoric is coming at us,” he said. “It makes it sound like this is this major problem that’s sweeping the land. We as an organization have never heard of a complaint from a cis gender athlete, a family member or a coach accusing a transgender athlete of being unfair or having some sort of advantage in the state of Iowa.”
According to data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, about 150,000 youth – ages 13 to 17 – identify as transgender across the country. That’s less than one percent of the population.
For Thomas and other LGBTQ advocates in Iowa, it’s a law seeking to regulate a non-existent problem
Thompson said transgender students have become an easy target for lawmakers seeking to please voters with conservative views about the LGBTQ community.
“They are metaphorical punching bags for folks at the statehouse,” Thompson said. “These are real students that just want to play. They want to be included. They want to be with their friends. And we’re using this issue as an electioneering talking point.”
The mental health impact of Iowa students waking up to a ban on the way transgender athletes compete in sports is immeasurable, Thompson said. And there are other repercussions that proponents may not have considered, he said.