Backlash Builds Against Biden’s Plan To Override States, Allow Transgender Athletes in Schools

The right says it threatens fair competition in women’s sports. The left says it doesn’t go far enough.

AP/Jacquelyn Martin, file
People attend a rally as part of a Transgender Day of Visibility in by the Capitol at Washington. AP/Jacquelyn Martin, file

The Biden administration’s proposed rule change to Title IX as it relates to transgender participation in school athletics is facing harsh criticism from the right, and muted displeasure from the left for not going far enough.

The Department of Education proposed a new rule change Thursday that would prohibit K-12 schools, colleges, and other institutions receiving federal funding from establishing blanket bans on transgender students competing on athletic teams that align with their gender identities, as opposed to natal sex.

The rule adds exceptions “in some instances,” when a school may adopt a policy to limit transgender participation on a team if it compromises “fairness in competition” or increases the risk of sports-related injury.

Title IX was signed into law 50 years ago to prevent gender discrimination in school athletics. The Biden administration proposed adding “gender identity” to the categories protected from discrimination in 2022, but this is the first time it has substantively weighed into the contentious issue of transgender participation in sports. The proposal will undergo a period of public comment before it is instituted.

“If adopted as a final rule,” the Department of Education’s press release states, it “would provide much needed clarity for students, parents, and coaches.”

Those on the right, though, say it threatens fair competition in women’s sports. At issue is whether transgender women should be allowed to participate in women’s sports, or whether natal males have undue physical advantages, particularly after they have gone through male puberty.

The issue came to the forefront in 2022, after a transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer, Lia Thomas, won the NCAA women’s championship in the 500 freestyle, beating a cisgender female Olympic silver medalist by more than a body length. Ms. Thomas was born a male, and competed as a male swimmer during the three years preceding her victory.

“This latest move by the Biden admin is anti-women,” Speaker McCarthy tweeted. “Protecting women’s sports is essential, and Republicans will not let the admin dismantle Title IX.”

The issue of transgender participation in sports has become a political lightning rod. Twenty states, mainly GOP-led, have passed legislation to bar transgender students from competing on teams that align with their gender identities, according to a LGBTQ think tank, Movement Advancement Project. This week, Kansas became the latest state to pass such legislation, with the GOP-led legislature overriding their Democratic governor’s veto.

South Dakota’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, who signed a bill last February to bar transgender girls and women from competing in women’s sports, tweeted, “We will defend our laws. Only girls will play girls’ sports. President Biden, we’ll see you in Court.”

Florida’s education commissioner, Manny Diaz, was equally confrontational. “We will never allow boys to play in girls’ sports,” he tweeted. “We will fight this overreach tooth and nail.”

Transgender rights groups and — generally — the left say it’s transphobic and harmful to ban transgender women and girls from competing on teams that match their gender identities. They note that transgender people make up only about 1 percent of the population and that the issue is being blown out of proportion.

“The focus on Lia Thomas is because she had the nerve to win,” the senior attorney for a LGBTQ legal and advocacy organization, Lambda Legal, tells the Sun. Shasha Buchert says most trans athletes are not winning gold medals and that an elementary school trans child shouldn’t be treated the same as a trans college athlete.

The Department of Education’s press release makes clear that “elementary school students would generally be able to participate on school teams consistent with their gender identity.”

“It clarifies that these blanket bans violate Title IX,” Ms. Buchert says. “It’ll be very helpful to protect trans kids.”

The proposed Title IX rule change adds exceptions when a transgender person may be barred from a team if the issues of fair competition or potential for injury are at play, recognizing that level of competition, age group, and the type of sport factor into that determination. This is where activists say there may be room for discrimination. “We would always love something a lot stronger,” Ms. Buchert says.

Transgender rights groups, though, generally see this as a win. “We are grateful to see the Biden administration taking steps to ensure transgender, nonbinary, and intersex students are included within these protections,” the founder and director of a LGBTQ rights in sports advocacy group, Athlete Ally, Hudson Taylor, says in a statement. “All children deserve to access the lifesaving power of sport.”

The American public largely thinks transgender women should not be able to compete in women’s sports, according to a May 2022 Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. It finds that 68 percent of Americans think transgender women have a “competitive advantage over other girls” in youth sports.

A former University of Kentucky swimmer, Riley Gaines, who competed against Lia Thomas in the NCAA championships, says the Biden administration’s proposal will undermine what Title IX was designed to do: protect women’s sports. “We’re catering to half a percent of the population at the expense of 51 percent of the population,” Ms. Riley says, “with us female athletes being the collateral damage.”

In a sign of how heated this debate has gotten, Ms. Gaines says she was assaulted by transgender rights activists at San Francisco State University, after giving a speech on protecting women’s sports from transgender competition.

The New York Sun

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