Proposed transgender high school athlete policy stirs controversy

When the Minnesota State High School League announced it would vote this week on a policy recommending that schools allow transgender athletes to compete while protecting their privacy, it outraged opponents.

The nonprofit association, which serves nearly 500 Minnesota schools, plans to hold a workshop on the policy for transgender athletes on Wednesday. Its board will vote on Thursday.

To raise an alarm about the proposed change, the Minnesota Child Protection League bought a full-page ad in the Star Tribune sports section on Sunday.

The ad, which showed a photograph of a locker room shower wall, included the words, "A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are YOU ok with that?"

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Michele Lentz, state coordinator of the Child Protection League, said its members wanted to alert parents to the discussion of transgender athletes because the issue seemed to be flying under the radar.

"The parents that we're talking to are up in arms. They didn't know that this was going on. They didn't know that this policy was being considered and they're appalled."

According to its website, the Child Protection League aims to protect all children from "exploitation, indoctrination and violence." Lentz said the group's members believe gender is determined by biology and genetics, not choice.

"If a girl wants to play on the boy's team and a boy wants to play on the girl's team that's one thing," she said.

But to not inform other members of the team, Lentz said, is another.

"Do you think that it's possible that in these kinds of situations where they are using facilities, showers, bathrooms, maybe traveling, that...that identity might accidentally be revealed," she asked, "and have we then created a situation that is potentially traumatic for these students?"

For David Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, the ad by Lentz's group "misrepresents everything that is in the current draft policy."

Read the draft policy

The latest draft states that member schools should "ensure reasonable and appropriate restroom and locker room accessibility for students."

Stead said the draft was developed using best practices from the 32 states that already have policies in place regarding transgender athletes. Its guiding principles are that transgender students should have the opportunity to compete in sports and their privacy will be protected.

Stead says the League wants to be ready to provide guidance to Minnesota schools.

"It just simply puts some structure around the issue that is facing schools should they have someone present themselves and want to participate as an eligible athlete on their school teams," he said.

Jae Bates
Jae Bates competing for Hopkins High School.
Courtesy Jae Bates

Hopkins High School faced such a situation a few years ago, when before entering the 11th grade, Jae Bates, a member of the girls' track and field team, wanted to be addressed by coaches and teammates as a transgender male.

"I was, you know, treated equally and fairly on the team and they called me by my correct pronouns that I wanted to go by," Bates said Monday. "You know, I wasn't treated any different. Everyone really wanted to respect and allow me to still be part of the community and part of the team."

Bates, a college freshman at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state, said the Child Protection League's ad plays up a concern that wasn't borne out in his experience because showering and locker rooms were a minor part of being an athlete. In high school, Bates changed in a gender-neutral bathroom or the bathroom in the school nurse's office and did not ask coaches to address the issue.

"For me, I knew I didn't feel comfortable using the boys' locker room even though they told me I would be able to," Bates said. "My problem with this ad is that many trans students don't feel comfortable using the bathrooms, let alone a locker room...Public spaces like that cause a lot of anxiety and fear over our own safety, let alone to go and endanger someone else's safety."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained an outdated draft of the MSHSL proposed policy. The story now includes the latest draft as of Oct. 1, prior to the MSHSL workshop, and describes the draft's proposed language on restroom and locker room facilities.