In many American states, bills that seek to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports have been signed into law. But caught up in the red tape and legality of this issue are real people – transgender athletes who want to participate in sporting events and those they are in direct competition with.
The debate on whether or not to allow trans athletes to partake in competitive sports is fraught with challenges. Here are both sides of the argument.
Do trans athletes have an unfair advantage?
People care about how transgender athletes are accommodated into traditional sports because they win many events – it’s as simple as that. But there is really no evidence that transgender athletes transitioned to gain an advantage in competitive sporting events. Still, lawmakers have used examples of trans athletes who won sporting events as a basis to issue a ban to stop trans teens from taking part in gendered divisions that are different from their birth or biological sex.
Sports can improve mental and physical health
Studies have indicated that children who participate in athletics have better physical and mental health compared to those who don’t. Given that transgender athletes are at a more significant mental health risk, it’s necessary to help them participate meaningfully in sporting events. Here, the phrase “participate meaningfully” is of importance. A child who is on a team but doesn’t take the sport or its rules seriously is not participating meaningfully. But many trans athletes may want to participate meaningfully in competitive sports.
Why classifications matter
Classifications between sports teams exist to ensure equal opportunities for people of competing teams. This is why, for instance, children are not teamed up against adults. Further, children are also separated by age because it helps keep the competition between those of a similar ability and skill level. In fact, organizations like the Paralympics and Special Olympics exist in order to provide opportunities for those with mental and physical disabilities to compete meaningfully against people with similar skills.
The rise of competitive women’s sports
The U.S. Congress, in 1972, extended the Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in order to prevent discrimination in federally-backed education programs. This included all associated athletics programs. The impact of this on women’s athletics was nothing short of significant. To compare, in 1970, less than 5% of female students participated in sporting events. Now, at least 43% of high school girls take part in competitive sports.
Given all these opposing arguments, what can we do to help trans athletes compete without allowing them an unfair advantage? One of the more popular suggestions is testosterone-based limitations for events, where every competitor will have their testosterone levels checked to measure their advantage. Those who seemingly have the upper hand would have to wear weighted clothes or be limited by another form of handicap before competing. But this may not always be appropriate in all athletic contests. Another solution involves doing away with gender divisions and replacing them with ability-based divisions. Only time will tell if such decisions allow competitors to participate meaningfully.