By Dirk Smith, MSc, SDL (He/Him)

As republican legislatures launch an unprecedented assault on the rights of transgender people through the introduction of over 25 anti-trans athlete bills in various state legislatures around the country, mostly serving as a red herring. 500+ NCAA student athletes have signed and submitted a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors calling the organization to uphold its nondiscrimination policy and publicly refuse to host any NCAA championship events in states with bans against transgender athletes.

In 2016 the NCAA enacted a non-discrimination policy in response to “House Bill 2” that was introduced in the North Carolina state legislature which attempted to place restrictions on transgender people by forcing them to use the bathroom according to the gender listed on their birth certificate. As a result, the NCAA pulled its championship events out of North Carolina to put pressure on the state to do away with the bill.

Unfortunately, this current round of legislation has much more teeth in going so far as to criminalize trans kids as young as 12 who want to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity. These bills are often based on out of date junk science as well as pseudoscience on the unproven but commonly perpetuated myth that transgender people have some kind of advantage in sport. Despite lawmakers being unable to cite any examples of trans athletes being a threat to girls/women’s sports, they continue to push such falsehoods.

The letter reads:

“We, the undersigned NCAA student-athletes, are extremely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of action taken by the NCAA to recognize the dangers of hosting events in states that create a hostile environment for student-athletes. HB500 in Idaho, even with the current injunction, is still is an incredibly harmful bill that sets a dangerous precedent of subjecting all women athletes to potential invasive gender verification tests while also effectively banning transgender women athletes from competition. Multiple states are following suit this year and have already introduced bills similar to Idaho’s HB500. You have been silent in the face of hateful legislation in states that are slated to host championships, even though those states are close to passing anti-transgender legislation.

It is imperative that we know we are safe and supported in the NCAA no matter where we travel to compete. The NCAA claims to prioritize the safety, excellence, and physical and emotional well being of its student athletes and asserts that all athletes deserve a fair shot. However, it is impossible for women athletes to feel safe and supported in environments where their personal identity and integrity is questioned. The reality is that these many of these bills cannot possibly be enforced without inviting policing and bullying of all student athletes who do not meet stereotypes of gender, and could empower any person to force any student athlete to undergo invasive physical exams or hormone tests in order to “prove” their gender. Put simply: the NCAA must speak out against bills that directly affect their student athlete population if they want to uphold their self-professed ideals of keeping college sports safe and promoting the excellence of physical and mental well being for student-athletes.

The harm these bills will cause will be felt by generations of athletes to come. Trans youth will not be able to play and excel at the sports they love, causing a ripple effect that will eventually remove an integral element of the diversity of college sport. Failure to speak up now will harm current and future athletes – perhaps irreparably. 

As athletes, we want to compete in the sports we love without fear. The NCAA claims to support all of its student athletes. Yet by continuing to offer bids to states with discriminatory legislation, you are endangering the wellbeing of all student athletes. No monetary gain is worth more than the safety of athletes. We call upon you to ensure that the NCAA lives up to the guidelines and standards that they claim to uphold by making a firm statement that you will uphold the NCAA Anti-Discrimination Policy and only operate championships and events in states that promote an inclusive atmosphere.

All athletes deserve to compete. All athletes are worthy of protection. No athlete should feel unsafe being who they are. Please show us that your practices align with your priorities. “

Hopefully this will send a message to show that trans rights are human rights and that this unprecedented assault on transgender peoples’ rights to participate in sport is unacceptable.

Photo by Serena Repice Lentini via Unsplash.com