Minn. could allow transgender athletes to pick team that suits them

Zeam Porter
Zeam Porter speaks about the years Porter played basketball on the girls team and how it always felt like the wrong team, during the Minnesota State High School League's public hearing on the proposed transgender policy, Oct. 1, 2014.
Renee Jones Schneider / The Star Tribune via AP

The Minnesota State High School League today will again consider a proposal to allow transgender athletes to play on the team that best aligns with their gender identity.

During a workshop today, league officials will review the latest version of the policy, which would allow students who have a consistent and sincerely held belief that their gender identity is different than their gender at birth to play on the sports team of their choice.

The league's board is expected to vote Thursday, two months after its members first considered the idea.

After two days of fiery public testimony in October, and more than 10,000 emails from people on both sides of the issue, board members tabled the measure to give themselves more time to mull it over.

• Earlier: High school league puts transgender athlete policy on hold

Monica Meyer, executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group OutFront Minnesota, said the policy would make transgender students feel more welcome in school sports.

"They're really taking a good step forward in providing schools with some policy language about how they can really ensure that all students can fully participate in sports," Meyer said.

Opponents of the proposal find it troubling. They say it could jeopardize safety, especially if transgender athletes who were born male play on a girls' team.

The Minnesota Child Protection League has aired its concerns in full-page ads in the Star Tribune, one in late September and one last Sunday.

One ad raised the notion that the proposed policy's requirement that transgender students have access to locker rooms would mean transgender athletes born as males could share shower facilities with girls.

"Just the mere presence of a male in a girls' bathroom I can tell you is going to make those girls feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and the potential for them to be emotionally distraught over that certainly exists," said Michele Lentz, state coordinator for the Minnesota Child Protection League.

Another concern of Lentz's group, and one that made its way into an ad in the Star Tribune on Sunday, is that transgender girls who were born male would have a physical advantage over other girls, beating them out for spots on sports teams.

"A biological male has a larger skeletal structure, more muscle. Generally speaking this is true," Lentz said. "To put them in a position where they are competing against girls, puts those girls in a situation where they could get hurt."

But observers of how policies for transgender student athletes have played out in other states say those issues haven't materialized.

Only about five transgender students a year in the entire country ask to be on a team that's not aligned with their birth gender, said Helen Carroll, sports project director for The National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"The trans girls have fit exactly into the strength and size and skill level of the girls' teams that they're playing on," said Carroll, a former University of North Carolina women's basketball coach.

A 2011 NCAA report found that transgender athletes had no competitive advantage over non-transgender athletes.

Carroll, a former NCAA athletic director, hasn't found a case where a transgender athlete's use of shower facilities has been a problem.

"A transgender girl is a girl. And they are very private, they are very private people," Carroll said. "They want to have privacy areas in the locker room, they don't want to shower with other students."

Staff and board members of the Minnesota High School League declined to comment, saying they would wait until after the board vote on Thursday.

But league officials have said that, at its core, the policy aims to prevent discrimination against transgender students and give schools guidance on how to do handle the issue.

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools. The U.S. Department of Education has said that it also covers transgender athletes.

Opponents of the transgender policies, among them the Minnesota Child Protection League, say that's something that remains to be tested in court.

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