Society

Transgender Athletes: The Fairness V. Inclusion Debate

In a majority of U.S. states, bills aiming to restrict who can compete in women's sports at public institutions have either been signed into law or are working their way through state legislatures.

Caught up in this political point-scoring are real people – both trans athletes who want to participate in competitive sports and those competing against them.

As a professor of ethics and public policy, I spend much of my time thinking about the role of the law in protecting the rights of individuals, especially when the rights of some people appear to conflict with the rights of others.

How to accommodate transgender athletes in competitive sports – or whether they should be accommodated at all – has become one of these conflicts.

On one side are transgender athletes who want to compete in the gender division with which they identify. On the other are political activists and athletes – especially biologically female athletes – who believe that allowing trans athletes to compete in women's divisions is inherently unfair.

So why is this issue so fraught? What's so special about women's sports? Why do women's divisions even exist? And is it possible to protect women's sports while still finding a way to allow transgender athletes to compete in a meaningful way?

Winners elicit outcry

Let's be clear: Few Americans would care about how to best accommodate transgender athletes if they were not winning events.

But that's exactly what has happened. In 2017 and 2018, Terry Miller, a trans woman, won the Connecticut women's high school track championships in the 55-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 300-meter events. Her closest and only real competitor those two years was Andraya Yearwood, who is also a trans woman.

In 2017 and 2018, Mack Beggs, a trans man, dominated the Texas 6A 110-pound girls wrestling division, capturing two state championships while compiling a record of 89 wins and 0 losses. Unlike in Connecticut, where athletes may compete as they identify, athletes in Texas must compete in the gender listed on their birth certificate.

While Miller, Yearwood, Beggs and others have triumphed in their respective sports, the number of transgender high school athletes is very low. Nor is there any evidence that athletes have transitioned for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage.

Yet some legislators have latched onto these examples, using them as a basis for bills that ban all transgender teens from participating in gendered divisions that differ from their birth sex. But these bills don't solve the competitive imbalances that can occur with athletes like Beggs. Worse, they might prevent transgender teens from competing altogether.

Sports matter – with meaningful participation

Since studies have shown that kids who participate meaningfully in athletics have better mental and physical health than their peers who don't – and teens who identify as transgender are at a significantly greater mental health risk than their peers – it's a worthy goal to try to accommodate their desire to compete.

The phrase "participate meaningfully" is important. Someone who, for example, is nominally on a team but does not take the sport seriously does not participate meaningfully in competitive sports. Similarly, someone who takes a sport seriously but easily dominates all competition also does not participate meaningfully in competition.

Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weight lifter and the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Games — Photo: in.gr_/Instagram

Youth sports organizations exist because we don't believe kids should compete against adults, and kids are further separated by age because age, for children, is a reasonably good proxy for skill and ability. Organizations like the Special Olympics and Paralympics exist to provide opportunities for people with physical and mental disabilities to participate meaningfully and compete against people with similar skill sets.

Male and female athletes are separated for the same reason.

The rise of women's sports

In 1972, the U.S. Congress extended Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in all federally funded education programs, including their associated athletics programs.

Title IX's impact on athletics for women and girls – and, as a result, U.S. culture – has been nothing short of dramatic. In 1970, fewer than 5% of U.S. girls participated in high school sports. Now 43% of high school girls participate in competitive sports.

Separating athletes by biological sex is necessary because the gap between the best male and female athletes – at all levels – is dramatic.

Serena Williams is not only one of the best female tennis players in history, she's one of the best female athletes in history. In 1998, both Serena and her sister Venus famously claimed that no male ranked outside of the ATP Top 200 could beat them. Karsten Braasch, the 203rd-ranked player ATP player at the time, challenged each to a set. Braasch beat Serena 6-1 and Venus 6-2.

"I didn't know it would be that difficult," Serena said after the match. "I played shots that would have been winners on the women's circuit, and he got to them very easily."

At the 2019 New Balance Nationals Outdoor, the national track championship for U.S. high school students, Joseph Fahnbulleh of Minnesota won the men's 100-meter with a time of 10.35 seconds. That same year, Olympic Gold Medal winner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran the fastest 100-meter time of any female in the world – 10.71 seconds. Her time would have tied for 19th at that U.S. boys high school event.

One more example that's a bit different: In 2012, Keeling Pilaro, a 4-foot-8, 80-pound seventh grade boy, petitioned the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to play field hockey on his school's all-female team. It approved his petition.

As a seventh grader, Pilaro made the school's JV team. As an eighth grader, he made the varsity team. But players and coaches from other schools argued he had a significant advantage because he was a boy. During the summer before his ninth grade year, the league agreed. It ruled Pilaro could no longer participate because his "advanced field hockey skills' had "adversely affected the opportunities of females."

Fallon Fox, a transgender fighter in mixed martial arts, trains at her local gym — Photo: Sally Ryan/ZUMA

I point to these examples because, put together, they show that no fitness regimen, no amount of practice, and no reallocation of financial resources could allow the best female athletes at any level to compete against the best male athletes at that same level.

This advantage isn't simply a difference in degree – it's not just that male athletes are bigger, faster and stronger – but it's a difference in kind. Pound for pound, male bodies are more athletic.

Evaluating trans athletes on a case-by-case basis

So, how can we allow trans athletes to compete without giving them an unfair advantage over their competitors?

One proposed solution, as if taken from the pages of novelist Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," is testosterone-based handicapping for events. Competitors would have their testosterone levels measured and then algorithms would determine their advantage. Then, competitors would be fitted with weighted clothes, compete on a different track or otherwise receive an appropriate handicap before competing.

But having a higher level of testosterone does not automatically make you a better athlete. Beyond this, while handicapping may be fine for a golf outing with friends, it isn't appropriate for serious athletic contests. The point of athletic competitions is to determine who is actually the best, not who is the best relative to handicaps.

Another proposed solution entails replacing gender divisions entirely with ability-level divisions. Yet this could hinder women's participation in sports. In a world with no female-only divisions, Serena Williams would still win some tennis tournaments, but they likely wouldn't be tournaments you've heard of.

So what's the most viable solution to this debate?

Since there is no typical transgender athlete, broad rules for transgender athletes don't seem appropriate.

Instead, language similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's disability accommodation policy could be used for transgender athletes: "The decision as to the appropriate accommodation must be based on the particular facts of each case."

"Men's' divisions could be eliminated and replaced with "open" divisions. Any athlete could be allowed to compete in that division.

Then, transgender athletes could be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Based on their athletic ability, a tournament organizer could determine which division is most fair for them to compete in, "women's' or "open."

For trans women athletes, at issue is their athletic ability, not their womanhood. If a tournament organizer determines that a trans woman athlete is too good to compete against other women because of her biological advantage, requiring her to compete in an "open" division does not undermine her humanity.

Instead, this acknowledges – and takes seriously – that she identifies as a woman, but that respect for the principles of fair competition requires that she not be allowed to compete in the women's division.

While whatever decision is made is unlikely to make all competitors happy, this approach seems to be the most fair and feasible given the relatively small number of transgender athletes and the unique circumstances of each athlete.The Conversation

Watch Video Show less

The Openly Gay Priest Shaking Up The Catholic Church In Germany

Holger Allmenroeder is a Catholic priest who is also openly gay. He supports gay and lesbian people, divorcees and those who have remarried. Traditionalists may find him alienating but his masses are well attended. Is he the future of the Church?

MAINZ — Catholic priest Holger Allmenroeder's short hair and friendly smile fit the part. Yet when leading Mass, he often wears a rainbow stole over his white robe — a symbol of the LGBTQ movement.

Allmenroeder, 58, is a Roman Catholic priest responsible for two parishes in the diocese of Mainz in western Germany. He leads Mass, officiates at weddings and funerals, and visits the elderly and the sick. And he is openly gay. He's known about his sexuality since he was a teenager. That's why he speaks up for those who are often shut out of the Catholic Church: gay and lesbian people, trans people, remarried divorcees. His Masses are always well attended, with parking spaces near the church hard to find on Sundays— even during the pandemic.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Italy Is So Slow In Protecting LGBTQ From Violence

Proposed Italian legislation to punish public acts of homophobia continues to be blocked by both the Catholic Church and right-wing politicians. But the country's most popular rapper has entered the debate.

-Analysis-

Whether it's newlywed visitors to the canals of Venice, lovers under Romeo's and Juliet's balcony in Verona or bronze-skinned couples on the beaches of Sicily, public displays of affection have long been part of the everyday scenery in Italy. But if you're gay, it could put your life at risk.

Keep reading... Show less

Pope's Support For LGBT Partnerships Has Roots In Argentina

Pope Francis, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has had a longstanding tolerance of and friendship for homosexuals, and yet rejection of marriage as anything other than a heterosexual institution.

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — The Pope's recent declarations favoring gay partnership may have astounded the world outside the Church, but not inside. The surprise may instead come from Pope Francis" decision to adopt a public stance that directly opposes the ideals of most conservative Catholics. Seven years after his accession to the papal throne, the man we Argentines know as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has indeed taken yet another step on his long-standing journey to open the Church to the secular world.

Keep reading... Show less
Society
William Nattrass

A Czech Exception? LGBTI Push For Progress In Central Europe

Attitudes are shifting in countries with both a communist past and strong Christian roots.

PRAGUE — It's no secret that Central Europe isn't the world's best place for LGBTI people. The odious anti-gay rhetoric of Polish President Andrzej Duda recently made international headlines, along with the country's introduction of "LGBT-free zones." In Hungary, Viktor Orbán's government used its power of decree during the coronavirus pandemic to make it impossible for people to change their legal gender, passing a bill replacing "gender" in the civil registry with "sex at birth." Meanwhile, Slovakia's Constitution explicitly limits marriage to opposite-sex couples, while a Eurobarometer survey five years ago found that only 24% of Slovaks support same-sex marriage.

Still, the region is not a monolith and times continue to evolve, which makes the situation for LGBTI in the Czech Republic worth particular attention.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Alessio Perrone

How Young Should We Recognize Transgender Kids?

In southern France, a family asked the local elementary school to call their child a new name.

The storyline is foundational for many in the LGBT+ community: An internal struggle to come to terms with one's own identity is followed by an external battle with societal institutions that eventually leads to that identity being recognized and respected. This time, however, the protagonist is eight years old.

In the southern French town of Aubignan, a child and her parents have won a months-long fight with the country's bureaucracy and obtained official recognition from the local school of her transgender identity. No longer will the male name she was born with, Baptiste, be used, reports French public radio: teachers and classmates will call her "Lilie."

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
Christian Rodríguez

The Lonesome Death Of A Gay Former FARC Guerilla

After serving Communist rebel group FARC, Arturo Zapata was brutally and publicly slain in a village near Medellín, and neither neighbors nor police intervened.

*Warning: This story contains details of a sensitive and graphic nature.

BOGOTÁ — I never found out if Arturo Zapata was killed for his past as a communist guerrilla, for being black or for being gay. His half-crushed body was left on the road, like a rodent run over by a car.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
Marcela Osorio Granados

Double Risk For LGBT+ Venezuelan Migrants Crossing Into Colombia

A Colombian NGO is urging the state to take special measures to protect LGBT+ migrants fleeing hardship in Venezuela only to face new discrimination risks across the border.

BOGOTÁVenezuela"s political, social and economic crisis has created a complex migratory phenomenon that is also impacting the areas to which Venezuelans are moving. But while all migrants are in positions of vulnerability, certain groups face a particularly focused level of violence and discrimination.

Such is the case of LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex) migrants, who are victims not just of xenophobia, but also of mistreatment due to their sexual orientation or gender expressions, the NGO Caribe Afirmativo found in a report focused on districts near the Colombia/Venezuela border.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Jiang Heqing

Same-Sex Marriage In Taiwan And The Pursuit Of True Equality

-OpEd-

TAIPEI — It was back on May 24, 2017 that Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled that the constitutional right to equality and freedom of marriage also takes into account same-sex couples. Yet it took two years until the moment earlier this month — after layers of difficulties, including three homophobic referenda led by conservative and Christian groups — that same-sex couples could finally tie the knot.

Watch Video Show less
Rue Amelot
Juan David Romero

Furia Marica - The Meaning Of 'Faggot' And LGBT Rights In Colombia

A nation became so attached to a nasty word that it has lost some of its edge, but not all of it.

PARIS In a country like Colombia, which has somehow taught itself to use the word gonorrhea as a term of endearment, it is not surprising that the word marica (or faggot) has also indelibly established itself into our everyday jargon. Except for its obvious use as an insult or when reappropriated by the LGBT community, the word seems to mold itself to any situation. "Quiubo marica!" we yell to greet our friends. "Que maricada," we say when we make a mistake. "Usted si es mucho marica," we tell each other when we are doing something stupid.

It's so ingrained into our society that at times one could almost say the word has been utterly extracted from its ignominious past. But don't be fooled.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Katherine Davis-Young

LGBT Native Americans, Discovering Hidden Past In Plain View

PHOENIX — The sound of drums, singing and prayers marked the opening of a powwow in Phoenix on a Saturday afternoon this month. Marchers carried the flags of the United States and some of Arizona's tribal nations onto the grass field, but the procession also included rainbow flags, and the pink and blue transgender flag. It was Arizona's first Two-Spirit Powwow, one of a handful of powwows that have sprung up across North America to celebrate LGBT Native Americans.

Among the marchers in the grand entry was Kay Kisto, the reigning Miss Indian Transgender Arizona. "To actually be here, to be at the first-ever Two-Spirit Powwow in Arizona - I've been having goose bumps ever since I got here," Kisto said.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Rozena Crossman

Out Of The Closet And Into Old Age: Caring For LGBT+ Seniors

Around the world, the first generations of openly LGBT+ people are arriving at a point in life where nursing homes and geriatric care become a real issue.

PARIS — As he started walking down the hallway of a nursing home in France, Victor Castanet, a journalist for Le Monde, came across the haunting image of an elderly man calling out for a loved one: "Eléonore! Eléonore! Eléonore!" It was a forlorn and, unfortunately, stereotypical snapshot of care homes in many countries. But at the end of the hallway, Castanet discovered a different microcosm of the geriatric world, just as universal yet not quite as visible.

"It was the portrait of a passion that defied the laws of aging, bodily decline and ‘social norms': two women, aged 89 and 100, curled up together in a tiny nursing bed," recounts Castanet in an article on LGBT+ individuals in nursing homes.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Yusimí Rodríguez López

In Colombia, When Your 7-Year-Old Is Transgender

In Bogotá, a transgender girl and her family are, with their openness, helping similar people take their rightful place in society.

BOGOTÁ — Malena was designated a boy at birth, but — as far as she can remember — she has always identified herself as a girl. She is seven years old now, and thanks to support from her family, has begun her gender transition. She has also become a source of support to families of other children who, like herself, want to express their gender identity.

The day a classmate asked her, "Armando, lend me the eraser," she replied: "My name is not Armando." The child switched spontaneously to, "Malena, can you please lend me the eraser?" Malena was six then and had been telling her parents for four years that she was certain she was a girl.

Watch Video Show less
Society

Aging And LGBT In Argentina: Survivors Of Deeply Homophobic Past

Older LGBT people have lived to see dramatic improvements in how society treats sexual minorities. But scars remain.

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — For elderly members of Argentina's LGBT community, things used to be so so different. They're the surviving witnesses of a time when sexual orientations that don't fit the establish mold were considered sickness, sins or even crimes.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Lynzy Billing

Call Centers, An Unlikely Refuge For Transgender Filipina Women

BPOs (business process outsourcing) companies are booming in the Philippines, and providing safe workplaces for transgender women to present themselves in their authentic gender identity.

MANILA The Philippines is the undisputed call-center capital of the world. Home to the customer service operations of such multinational companies as IBM, eBay and Capital One, the industry employs half a million people in more than 400 centers across the country, and in 2016 contributed $25 billion to the national economy.

But the call-center business has also had another, perhaps unexpected effect: It has provided transgender women with a safe space to express their gender identities at work. Since the call-center boom kicked off in the mid-2000s, thousands of transgender agents have entered the industry, often because of the lack of job opportunities in their chosen fields.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Mulay

A Victory For LGBT Rights In India — Just Not A People's Victory

Blame for the failure to take legislative responsibility for LGBT rights must be squarely divided among political parties across the spectrum.

NEW DELHI — While we have the Supreme Court to thank for the celebrations that will paint our safe urban spaces rainbow, let us be clear that this is not a result of a "people-power" movement. A legislative repeal of Section 377 in parliament (or through the promulgation of an ordinance) would have been directly associated with the extensive public advocacy campaign we have seen in India.

Thursday's event, meanwhile, was yet another instance of our legislators delegating the task to the judiciary to rule on an unpopular subject, allowing themselves the comfort of deflecting any criticism from the opponents of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual and other sexualities) rights movement and basking in the praise of its proponents.

Watch Video Show less
EXPLORE OTHER TOPICS