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Publish date: Sep 13, 2011

Transgender policy approved

By Marta Lawrence

A new policy approved by the NCAA Executive Committee will clarify opportunities for participation by transgender student-athletes. 

The policy is aimed at allowing the student-athlete to participate in competition in accordance with their gender identity while maintaining the relative balance of competitive equity among sports teams. 

Approved at the August meeting and distributed via mail Sept. 7, the new policy will allow transgender student-athletes to participate in sex-separated sports activities so long as the athlete’s use of hormone therapy is consistent with the NCAA policies and current medical standards, which state:

“As a core value, the NCAA believes in and is committed to diversity, inclusion and gender equity among its student-athletes, coaches and administrators,” NCAA Director of Inclusion Karen Morrison wrote in a memo to the NCAA membership. “Since participation in athletics provides student-athletes a unique and positively powerful experience, the goals of these policies are to create opportunity for transgender student-athletes to participate in accordance with their gender identity while maintaining the relative balance of competitive equity within sports teams.”

Development of the new policies was aided in part by a report from the National Center on Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation last October that provided guidance on how colleges and universities should accommodate the interests of student-athletes who have transitioned or are transitioning from one gender to another.

Co-authored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Director of the Sports Project Helen Carroll and GLESN (Gay, Lesbian dn Straight Education Network) project director Pat Griffin, who has overseen educational efforts for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in sports for the Women’s Sports Foundation, the report stresses that any transgender student-athlete “should be allowed to participate in any gender-segregated sports activity so long as that athlete’s use of hormone therapy, if any, is consistent with the national governing body’s existing policies on banned medications.” 

The report emerged after both organizations sponsored a “think tank” entitled “Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes” in 2009 that included representatives from the NCAA, the National High School Federation, and experts on transgender issues from disciplines ranging from law and medicine to advocacy and athletics. The think-tank goals were to develop model policies and identify best practices for high school and collegiate athletics programs to ensure the full inclusion of transgender student-athletes. 

The report offers a comprehensive discussion of what the term “transgender” means and how to provide access and equal opportunities to the individuals it applies to.

In April, the NCAA Executive Committee heard a presentation regarding transgender student-athletes and noted the NCAA’s effort to better educate institutions about accommodating the interests of student-athletes who are transitioning and to develop Association-wide policies regarding transgender student-athlete participation in college sports. 

The August decision was the conclusion of that process, which included input from NCAA member committees, including the Student-Athlete Advisory Committees, other sports governance consultants, the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Other sports organizations, such as the LPGA, USGA, USA Track & Field and others, also have policies targeted toward the participation of transgender athletes.

The NCAA will provide resources for its membership, including the Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes resource book; a CD that contains the resource book; a slide presentation to educate administrators and student-athletes; and a 30-minute video featuring Betsy Crane, director of graduate programs in human sexuality at Widener University and a subject-matter expert on transgender issues. 

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