Americans are currently facing a cultural battle when it comes to school sports. For years, Title IX has split exercise programs based on gender, resulting in men dominating women in most sports. Due to this, many famous female athletes, such as Megan Rapinoe, Angel Reese, and Katie Ledecky, may never have been discovered. Recently, an increasing number of young people have identified as transgender, seeking to participate in sports programs that match their gender identity. While their desire for belonging is understandable, it creates an inevitable conflict with the nation’s history of protecting girls’ and women’s sports.
After years of controversy and discord, the Biden administration has proposed a new rule for school sports programs. The new rule would allow schools to limit the participation of transgender women and girls on women’s teams under certain circumstances, such as competitive fairness and physical safety. This policy represents the administration’s first acknowledgement that biological sex is important in certain school sports settings. Additionally, the rule seeks to maximize opportunities for transgender athletes by recognizing gender differences and levels of competition.
As a law professor who has studied sports and gender, I believe that this issue is a serious matter that requires compassion for all athletes involved and precision rather than rough strokes. The administration’s proposal is a sophisticated approach that largely addresses the challenges at hand. It requires schools to justify gender-based eligibility requirements for each sport, level of competition, and grade level, thus making recreational settings such as elementary schools and intramural programs much more difficult than inter-school competition designed to win the girls’ state championship.
Proponents of a blanket ban on transgender women and girls say that the rules impose too high a burden of evidence and leave under-resourced programs vulnerable to litigation. But there is already strong evidence supporting general eligibility criteria based on gender for specific sports and levels of competition. This includes evidence on how puberty, pubertal blockers, and sex-confirming hormones affect sexual development and athletic performance.
Rather than veering in either ideological direction, the White House chose to take the broad and pragmatic middle ground. This is common sense, as it is usually not viable. States should not invest federal money in girls’ and women’s sports programs and pursue policies that ignore gender differences. The proposal does not require schools to open up both men’s and women’s teams to athletes regardless of gender. Ultimately, this policy is a promising path forward for the country.