Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Staff Editorial: Title IX proposal offers sympathy, not support for trans student-athletes

The Department of Education proposed changes to Title IX regulations earlier this month that would prevent schools and states from blocking transgender student-athletes from participating in school sports based on their gender identity. But the potential rules contain a glaring contradiction that nullifies the very protections they’re offering for trans student-athletes.

If the rules come to pass, public K-12 schools, colleges, universities and private educational institutions that receive federal funding, like GW, would no longer be able to “categorically ban” trans athletes from playing on a team consistent with their gender identity. Yet the rules would still permit schools to bar trans student-athletes from participating in school sports based on a variety of factors to allow “fairness in competition.” And while these criteria – like the student’s age, the level of their education and the competitiveness of the sport in question – are supposed to be disconnected from gender identity, states and schools could surreptitiously use them to remove trans students from school sports.

While the proposed rules might block purposeful gender-based discrimination, they tell states and schools how to acceptably restrict trans student-athletes’ ability to participate in school sports. These changes wouldn’t guarantee students-athletes’ right to play basketball, run track or wrestle competitively – they’d give anti-trans activists a playbook to get away with anti-trans discrimination.

“Fairness in competition” is a vague idea that assumes trans student-athletes threaten sports simply because of who they are. And while some student-athletes will always have advantages over their peers, whether it be longer limbs or a larger lung capacity, that is a fact regardless of gender identity. But under the proposed changes, anti-trans activists could point to “fairness” and “competitiveness” – two deeply subjective metrics – to restrict trans students’ participation in school sports.

The proposed changes state the criteria to determine trans students’ participation in school sports “could not be premised on disapproval of trans students or a desire to harm a particular student,” so all that states and schools would have to do is obscure their motivations behind enacting harsh restrictions. Anti-trans legislators could baselessly argue that a fifth grade basketball team is as competitive as the NCAA to justify removing a trans student-athlete from play in direct defiance of the Department of Education’s pledge to protect them.

While some jurisdictions view discriminatory restrictions in sports with alarm, some states, like Florida, have already indicated their plans to double down on anti-trans discrimination and fight the proposed rules “tooth and nail” should they go into effect. If states and schools could undermine, attack or ignore protections for trans student-athletes, how would these proposed changes help them? With or without these reforms to Title IX, trans student-athletes are losing their ability to play school sports. Between 2020 and 2023, 21 states banned trans student-athletes from participating in K-12 and collegiate sports teams consistent with their gender identity. While court injunctions have blocked laws in three of those states – Utah, Idaho and West Virginia – from going into effect, student-athletes shouldn’t have to rely on the legal system to ensure they can keep playing their chosen sport.

These laws wrongly assume trans athletes pose an existential threat to sports, and such legislation puts a small group of people – and sometimes a single student-athlete – under statewide scrutiny. Utah banned trans student-athletes from participating in women’s sports in March 2022. There were reportedly four trans student-athletes in high school in the state that year, only one of whom competed in women’s sports at the time.

Opposition to trans student-athletes isn’t about fairness – it’s just one prong of a broader attack to remove trans people, especially trans youth, from public life. The same state-level politicians crying foul over trans student-athletes are stripping trans people of their ability to access medically necessary and gender-affirming health care.

Compared to the cruel, craven actions of state legislators, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s and President Joe Biden’s public-facing support for trans people is both unprecedented and much appreciated. “Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination,” Cardona said in a statement announcing the proposed changes. And Biden told trans Americans he’d have their back during his 2021 State of the Union address.

But sympathy and rhetoric are not enough to combat an onslaught of anti-trans hate and discrimination. To meet the moment, the Department of Education needed to take a bold leap. The agency should have updated Title IX with an uncompromising, unflinching commitment to student-athletes’ right to participate on sports teams that align with their gender identity without exceptions for “fairness” or “competitiveness.” If these regulations give an inch, then anti-trans activists will take a mile.

Instead, the rules the Department of Education proposed seem to aid those who want to discriminate as much as those who’d be on the receiving end of that discrimination. While introducing protections for trans student-athletes may be a watershed moment in American history, trans youth deserve the right to participate in school sports now – not a footnote in a textbook in the future.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Contributing Opinions Editor Julia Koscelnik, based on discussions with Sports Editor Nuria Diaz, Managing Editor Jaden DiMauro, Culture Editor Clara Duhon, Design Editor Grace Miller and Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet