GHSA amendment disappoints transgender advocacy group

A ruling by the Georgia High School Association to address the issue of boys asking to play on girls-only sports teams has drawn criticism from a transgender advocacy group.

The GHSA amended By-law 1.47 last week at its executive committee meeting to state: “A student’s gender is determined by the gender noted on his/her certificate at birth.” The motion passed unanimously.

The agenda item that prompted the amendment was called a proposal to develop a transgender policy. The outcome disappointed Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, the largest statewide group that advocates for Georgia’s lesbian, gay and transgender communities.

Graham says Georgia should follow the lead of the NCAA and a handful of state high school associations that spell out pathways for transgender athletes to compete based on gender identity.

‘’To create a policy that they call proactive that is in fact regressive and limiting is troubling,’’ Graham said. ‘’I would certainly hope that the association would be open to meeting with experts in the field and having a full debate. Unfortunately this policy is highly restrictive and goes against both the national and international trends of sports in creating a safe and inclusive environment for transgendered individuals.’’

The NCAA’s policy, adopted in 2011, allows transgendered females who have taken medication to suppress testosterone for a year to compete on women’s teams.

The International Olympic Committee, the LPGA, the USGA and USA Track & Field also have policies that specifically address transgendered athletes and their avenue to participate.

At least five state high school associations have amended bylaws or made rules that allow for participation based on gender identification instead of birth gender.

Bylaws of the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association allow students to participate ‘’in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.’’

In March, the Maine Principals’ Association voted to allow students the chance to choose sports teams based on gender identity alone, pending an approval process that considers competitive balance and safety.

GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said he was concerned that adopting a similar policy would invite illegitimate requests.

“We felt that the wording [in other states] opened the doors for people to manipulate the system,’’ Swearngin said. “If you have someone who truly has a gender orientation that’s not traditional, we have an appeals process. But we felt like we had to consider the competitive balance of all the students who play a sport and not just make a rule that’s only going to benefit a small number of people.’’

Swearngin said that his office has never received a request from a transgendered student to participate based on gender identification but that it has received two or three inquiries each year wanting to know why males can’t play in girls-only sports, especially in sports that aren’t available to boys, such as volleyball and gymnastics.

‘’Most [inquiries] are from male students,’’ Swearngin said. “Occasionally a parent has made the call to our office wanting to know why boys can’t play volleyball. In addition, there have been occasional complaints about allowing girls to play baseball when boys can’t play softball.’’

Swearngin said that the new attention to transgender athletes brings about a curious set of conflicts pitting Title IX principles against gender identity issues.

Graham said there are better ways to address that dilemma. He referenced a 2010 report by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which urged high school associations to adopt standard policies to provide ‘’fair and equal’’ opportunities to transgendered students. The report stated that failure to adopt such policies could result in litigation.

‘’While I can have some appreciation for [the GHSA’s] concerns about people trying to abuse the situation, my opinion on this policy does not change,’’ Graham said. “We will still be planning on following up with them to specifically talk about [other] options.’’

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