The Transsexual Athlete Dilemma

Nothing’s more likely to get me in trouble with some segment of our local citizenry than taking a position on men transgendered to women who insist on participating in female athletics.

But the topic needs more local discussion than it’s been getting, and so here goes. [Jones now retreats into his Kaalawai bunker.]

We’ve been through that in Hawaii. Remember when a transgender woman insisted on paddling with a competitive female crew on the Ala Wai Canal?

Then last year on Maui came the case of a Kamehameha Schools transgender girl who had played girls’ volleyball and then transferred to the boys’ junior varsity squad.

An unnamed coach of an unnamed Maui school that competes in the league said “I have no problem with the kid being who (they) want to be, but now these girls are being put in an unsafe situation without giving the parents the opportunity to make an educated decision on whether they want their daughter in that position.”

Why “unsafe”? He indicated a stronger transgender girl might injure a less strong birth girl. But volleyball is not an athlete engagement sport like wrestling, in which some trans-girl competitors do seem to have at least a size advantage due to their male genetic makeup.

The Maui News talked with Tiare Sua, who had transitioned to a girl and played as a girl at Wahiawa High School. She said she doesn’t buy that girls who were boys are always stronger than birth girls.

“I don’t like to degrade women as thinking that they are weaker than men,” she said. “Like, you would be surprised at how strong women are. To have somebody saying that somebody who’s trans is stronger than a female opponent to me is just biased. To me, females are strong, just the same… Women are not weak, they are strong beings.”

There’s current pushback in America, although to a very small degree in Hawaii, which has tended to be more gender tolerant.

Idaho has a  law banning transgender people from changing their birth certificates to match their gender identity. So a young athlete would have to compete in his/her birth-gender group. The Trump administration has sided with Idaho’s law.

Transgender girl Chelsea Miller, right, beats out birth-girl Terry Miller on the track.

Many Republican lawmakers have specifically homed in on transgender youth issues, proposing bills in several states to ban transgender athletes from competition in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio and Tennessee. They argued that transgender athletes have an unfair advantage in sports at all levels at the expense of birth gender competitors.

In Connecticut, which is one of only a handful of states that allow students to participate in sports based on their gender identity, three  birth gender female high school athletes are suing the state’s interscholastic sports governing body. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has threatened to withhold federal funding to Connecticut after ruling the state’s inclusion of transgender athletes violated Title IX laws.

The Idaho law I cited is at odds with NCAA policy, which requires one year of hormone treatment for a boy in transition to compete on a female team.

Advocates as well as prominent athletes, including Billie Jean King and Megan Rapinoe, have called for the NCAA to suspend men’s basketball tournament games if trans-women can’t play on a men’s team. The NCAA did ban events in North Carolina in 2016 over the state’s since-repealed law that required transgender people to use public bathrooms based on the gender on their birth certificates. It’s in court now.

“It’s a really important case, because it’s going to set a precedent for other states as well. I think the next generation of these bathroom bills are these sports bills,” says Susan Cahn, a history professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in gender and sexuality in sports. “It’s sort of the latest wave in [the] traditionalist defense of sports as they are in the male imagination, the idea … that men are fundamentally, biologically superior to women, and therefore someone that was assigned male at birth should never compete in women’s competition.”

In Connecticut, the debate over transgender athletes has been at the forefront for two years. Three birth gender female athletes filed a federal lawsuit seeking to change the state rule that allows high school athletes to compete in sports corresponding with their gender identity, mainly because of the success of two transgender female track runners who have combined to win 15 state titles.

A transgender girl (right) on a woman’ rugby team

But research published in 2015 found that transgender women runners were no more competitive after hormone therapy in the female division than they had been in the male division and were actually running at least 10 percent slower after treatment.

Where we go next is unknown and depends on several court cases and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.

I’m still undecided. What say you?


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

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