The N.C. High School Athletic Association has never had a request regarding the eligibility of a transgender athlete, but its board established a policy this month for students who are physically one gender, but identify with the other gender.
The policy aligns the NCHSAA, which oversees high school athletics at public schools and some parochial schools in the state, with North Carolina statutes that say a students gender is the one listed on the birth certificate.
We want to give all of our students the opportunity to be involved in our programs, said Davis Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner. Weve never had a case come to us, but transgender is a national topic and at national meetings we have been advised to establish a policy.
Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, who studies transgender policies, said about 700,000 people in the U.S., about 0.3 percent of the population, identify as transgender. About 30,000 transgender adults live in North Carolina if the national percentage is typical in North Carolina.
There is no estimate available of the number of teenagers in the state who identify as transgender.
The NCHSAA already was in the process of developing its policy before the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education said earlier this month that transgender students are protected against discrimination by Title IX, legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and religion in federally funded education programs and activities.
The OCR said that Title IXs sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation.
States create policies
About a dozen states, according to the New York Times, have adopted rules regarding transgender students and several others are considering regulations. Most state associations are expected to adopt a policy in the next few months as a result of the OCR ruling.
Birth records can be changed in North Carolina, but the request for change must be accompanied by a notarized statement from the physician who performed a sex reassignment surgery or from a physician licensed to practice medicine who has examined the individual and can certify that the person has undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Eliza Byard, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network said the NCHSAA policy is welcome, but not as inclusive as it could be.
That is unlikely for a high school student to have had that surgery because of a matter of life course and as a matter of cost, she said.
The Virginia High School League also requires a student to have had surgery to change sexual identity, but in California, students in kindergarten through the 12th grade are allowed to choose whether they want to play on boys or girls teams. The students also can choose which bathrooms and locker rooms they use.
The controversy surrounding transgender athletes came to the forefront in 1977 when Renee Richards, who was born male, had sex-change surgery and sued the U.S. Tennis Association for the right to play in the womens bracket of the U.S. Open. She lost in the first round to Virginia Wade.
George Washington Universitys Kye Allums, who was born female but identified as a male, played on the womens basketball team there. Jaiyah Saelua, who was born male, played on the American Samoan World Cup womens soccer team.
It is interesting that athletics is leading the way in discussions about discrimination, said Byard. We are talking about not discriminating against a transgender high school athlete, but there is no law in North Carolina that protects against discrimination in the workplace.
One of the arguments against allowing transgender students to compete on high school athletic teams is the possibility that male athletes will pose as transgender athletes in order to dominate female athletics.
That scenario is not likely, said Rhonda Blanford-Green, the executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association.
You can hypothetical anything, but I cannot imagine a male student going through the stigma and psychological trauma to change his name and his sexual identity to play on a girls team, Blanford-Green said. I wont say it would never happen, but I cant imagine this would be a problem. Why would he do that? What would be the benefit?
She said sexuality and adolescence is an explosive topic that provokes many feelings.
But our underlying mission has to be doing what is best for our children, she said. We have to meet the needs of our children.
Byard said the national discussion is welcome, but that state associations need to evaluate why they are addressing transgender students.
Is it to avoid potential legal liabilities, or is to give as many students as possible the opportunity to participate in all the wonderful things that high school athletics offer? she said.
The primary objective of a high school coach is not to win games, but to be a positive influence on their students.