Why are U.S. states banning transgender women from sport?

by Rachel Savage | @rachelmsavage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 June 2021 13:46 GMT

FILE PHOTO: The shadow of a player is being cast on the ground while practicing volleyball during the opening ceremony of the first South Asia Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Sports Festival in Kathmandu, October 12, 2012.

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a law banning trans women and girls from school and college women's sport

By Rachel Savage

June 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Florida has become the largest U.S. state to ban transgender women and girls from competing in women's sport, part of a nationwide Republican drive to use local laws to challenge President Joe Biden's push for greater LGBT+ inclusion.


In March 2020, Idaho became the first state to ban trans women and girls from women's sports leagues in schools and colleges, setting off a trend that swept more than 30 other state legislatures.

That landmark law is now suspended, after a court challenge deemed it discriminatory.

This year, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida passed similar legislation and South Dakota's governor has signed an executive order supporting a sports ban. All have Republican governors.

In May, the LGBT+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign pronounced 2021 the "worst year" for bills challenging gay and transgender rights in U.S. states.

It plans to challenge the Florida law.

More than 250 LGBT+ rights-related bills were introduced in state legislatures this year, it said, with 18 "anti-LGBTQ" bills then signed into law, topping the previous record of 15 set in 2015.

FILE PHOTO: The Kirtland Hornets and Sandy Valley Cardinals high school football teams compete in the Division V quarterfinal Ohio football playoffs in Chardon, Ohio, U.S., October 24, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton


On Biden's first day in office, he signed an executive order that banned discrimination based on gender identity in bathrooms, changing rooms and school sports - a move opposed by many Republicans.

"The President believes that trans rights are human rights, and that no one should be discriminated on the basis of sex," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March.

Republicans have spoken out against trans girls competing in girls' sport, saying they have an unfair physical advantage over other competitors, amid a fierce culture war between LGBT+ activists and social conservatives.

"I can tell you this: in Florida, girls are going to play girls' sports and boys are going to play boys' sports," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday where he signed the bill.

"We are going to go based off biology, not based off ideology when we are doing sports."


School policies for trans athletes vary, but are usually set by bodies that govern athletics, rather than state laws.

Several states have no policies at all.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which runs inter-college sport, says trans women must suppress their testosterone for at least a year before competing as women.

Trans men cannot compete with women once they start taking testosterone, NCAA rules state.

On the global stage, International Olympic Committee guidelines advise sporting bodies to allow trans women athletes to compete if their testosterone levels remain below a certain level for at least a year. Trans men face no restrictions.

FILE PHOTO: Dec 5, 2018; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs students get their picture taken during a basketball game against the Washington Huskies at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports


LGBT+ activists say the sports bills are discriminatory, and dispute claims of a physical advantage.

Gillian Branstetter, a trans advocate and spokeswoman for the National Women's Law Center, said trans athletes have not consistently outperformed other female athletes in the 16 U.S. states that have trans-inclusive high school policies.

"There's not been the abolition of women's sport. The nightmarish rhetoric (of) the people proposing these bills simply hasn't come to fruition," she said.

Chris Mosier, a triathlete and the first trans man to represent the United States internationally, said the current debate was damaging for all trans people.

"Telling transgender and non-binary youth that they are not valid and not worthy of having the same experiences as their peers not only negatively impacts them - it also impacts the way the rest of the country treats transgender people," he said.

"These are very dangerous bills that are attempting to serve as an entry point to larger scale discrimination," he said.


The muscular advantage enjoyed by trans women only falls by about 5% after a year of testosterone suppressing treatment, according to a review of existing studies by the University of Manchester and Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

Britain's Loughborough University found that hormone therapy reduced trans women's haemoglobin levels - which affects endurance - to equal that of non-trans women within four months.

But strength, lean body mass and muscle area remained higher after three years of medication to block testosterone, it said.

Tommy Lundberg, who co-authored the first study, said male athletes gain their 30% muscular advantages during puberty, but there are no studies of trans adolescents who may take puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones before puberty finishes.

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(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Additional Reporting by Sydney Bauer; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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