Video: Legislators Introduce Fairness in Womens Sports Act
Researchers have attempted to quantify in recent years what, if any, advantage transgender athletes may have over their peers, and if this difference in ability is measurably greater than the natural physical variation that occurs among humans regardless of their sexual backstory.
The issue has taken on greater significance in Pennsylvania, as state lawmakers, including some locally, have introduced a bill that would effectively bar transgender women from competing in womens scholastic sports, arguing that they have inherent advantages.
The reality is significantly less clear-cut. A study published at the end of last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, for instance, found that transgender women retained a 12 percent advantage in distance running a year after starting hormone replacement therapy. But the study group consisted of individuals who began hormone therapy as adults while serving in the United States Air Force, limiting its usefulness for young athletes who started transitioning much earlier.
In litigation over Idaho House Bill 500which the Pennsylvania proposal mirrorsU.S. District Judge David Nye likewise noted that the key piece of data offered by proponents of the bill was a study that did not involve student athletes, but rather adults who were tested for proxies of athletic performance, such as muscle density before and after testosterone-suppressing therapy, and not performance in actual sports.
Although the connection between hormone levels and athletic performance is highly variable, athletic organizations have tried to create policies that generally assume testosterone correlates to athletic performance. The National Collegiate Athletic Association allows transgender women to compete as women as long as they have undergone testosterone suppression therapy for one year or more. The International Olympic Committee mandates athletes competing as women have testosterone levels below a certain limit in routine testing for at least one year prior to competition.
Midstate lawmakers use language from Idaho law to ban transgender athletes from women's sports
But at lower levels of competitiveness, such as the vast majority of high school sports, researchers have indicated that any edge gained by transgender athletes is highly situational and not one that requires governments to create one-size-fits-all definitions something that will create more problems for youth sports, not less, they say.
In an interview with NPR last month, for instance, geneticist Dr. Eric Vilain, one of the leading researchers on the issue, said he was a little disturbed to hear that these issues at the elite level are now reaching the middle and high schools and colleges, given that the advantages and disadvantages of transgender athletes are highly specific to certain sports at select levels of competition.
In his court opinion late last year, Nye also weighed the matter and found Idahos case to be lacking.
Ample evidence exists that forcing transgender women to compete as men is detrimental to their physical and psychological health, Nye wrote, let alone the risk that the implementation of the Idaho law would result in athletes being forced to endure a humiliating dispute process and/or invasive medical examination simply to play sports.
On the other hand, the claim that cisgender women, or women who identify with the sex with which they were born, were being denied opportunity because transgender women were participating alongside them was far more speculative, Nye wrote; a court would need to see empirical evidence that the Idaho laws advocates were unable to proffer.
In the absence of any empirical evidence that sex inequality or access to athletic opportunities are threatened by transgender women athletes in Idaho, the acts categorical bar against transgender women athletes participation appears unrelated to the interests the act purportedly advances, Nye wrote.
Because proponents fail to show that participation by transgender women athletes threatened sexual equality in sports or opportunities for women under these preexisting policies, the acts proffered justifications do not appear to overcome the inequality it inflicts on transgender women athletes, he continued.