For the 2019 season going forward USA hockey, the US National Governing Body for the sport of Hockey in the US has adopted new policies that are inclusive of transgender and non-binary athletes.

This policy comes right at the time as more and more transgender and non-binary athletes are taking to sport and helping to shape our understanding of how sports will evolve and become more accessible to athletes who exist outside the gender binary.

The policies are broken down based on the structure of USA Hockey’s programs. As most of the USA Hockey’s programs both competitive and recreational, are not restricted by gender. The policy clarifies that all players are welcome to participate within those programs regardless of gender identity. This includes youth hockey, junior hockey, high school/ prep school and adult co-ed hockey.

The policy then outlines the guidelines regarding USA Hockey Programs that are restricted by gender. For transgender athletes wishing to compete in girls recreational hockey, which are hockey programs that include 12 years of age and under as well as 14-19 years of age that athletes are permitted to compete with parental permission and written confirmation of their gender identity from a health care provider, which could be a physician, counselor or other qualified professional.

The common talking point regarding transgender athletes is in regard to hormones, specifically testosterone, that have an effect on the physical development of an athlete which can influence their strength, speed and power. In the girl’s competitive hockey division, the policy clarifies that male to female transgender athletes are eligible to participate with the same requirements listed for girls recreational but also adds that confirmation by a medical professional that the athlete has undergone a minimum of 1 year of testosterone suppression therapy is required as well.

For transgender athletes who identify as female to male but have not begun testosterone hormone therapy are permitted to compete in either the girls or boys division. However, once the athlete begins testosterone hormone therapy, they are only permitted to compete in the boys division.

Adult transgender athletes wishing to participate in a gender specific hockey program are permitted to participate in the division that reflects the athlete’s gender identity as listed on their registration documents (which the athlete must fill out every year to be able to participate).

In addition to the new policies for gender identity, USA Hockey also lays out guidelines for more inclusive practices within the locker rooms. The policy is listed as such…

“To best promote inclusion on a hockey team and to respect the privacy of all players on the team, USA Hockey strongly recommends that any team with a transgender player apply a locker room policy requiring all players to wear certain “minimum attire” at all times in the locker room as set forth in USA Hockey’s Co-Ed Locker Room Policies. This means that the players should arrive at the rink wearing their base layer (e.g., shorts and t-shirt, compression shorts and shirt or sports bra) and then all players can dress in the same locker room without any player seeing another player in a state of undress. A player not wearing their “base layer” can use a restroom to change into the base layer and then enter the locker room with the other players. Use of showers (especially when showers are not separate from the locker room) shall be permitted in a manner respecting all players’ privacy.“

Finally, in the policy document, USA Hockey outlines steps for clubs to promote a more trans inclusive environment. These outlines are an important step in helping to promote better education and awareness of how transgender athletes can and should be included in sports, but more importantly it’s about creating an environment and culture that is more welcoming and inclusive for transgender athletes. They include…

  • Value diversity.
  • Educate yourself and your staff about transgender identity.
  • Be prepared to discuss transgender participation with the participants of your program, particularly with parents of youth players.
  • Respect the transgender player’s identity, and use preferred names and pronouns.
  • Anticipate and address any transgender access issues, including making locker rooms and bathrooms safely available in accordance with applicable laws.
  • Respect the player’s right to privacy and do not disclose any personal information (including whether a player is transgender).
  • Address discriminatory behavior, based on any perceived or actual gender identity or gender

With the rights, dignities and respect of transgender people being taken away because of fear and ignorance, policies such as those adopted by USA Hockey, Scottish Athletics and other National Governing Bodies are important. Through sport, this will lead toward a greater change. The new policies developed for USA Hockey have received a lot of praise from transgender athletes and advocates, included from Chris Mosier (who consulted with USA Hockey about it) as well as Rachel McKinnon.

While the IOC and NCAA trans-inclusive policies laid the foundation but the policies enacted by USA Hockey, Scottish Athletics and other national governing bodies are building the framework toward helping to create a more inclusive and welcome culture for sports, through knowledge, research, education and awareness, for all.

By Dirk Smith