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posted Friday, October 8, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 41
Groundbreaking Transgender athlete report released
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Groundbreaking Transgender athlete report released

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

On October 4, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and It Takes A Team!, an education campaign for LGBT issues in sports, released a comprehensive report addressing Transgender student athletes. It aims to provide leaders in education and athletics with the information they need to make effective policy decisions about the participation of Transgender students in high school and college athletic programs.

The report urges both high school and college level athletic clubs to establish standard, national policies for fair and equal opportunities for Transgender students to participate on athletic teams of all kinds, and provides a model of how to go about it.

The report, 'On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes,' is the first ever to thoroughly address the complete integration of Transgender students into both high school and collegiate level athletic programs. It is also the first to provide a comprehensive framework for athletic clubs to ensure equal access to school athletics for Transgender students.

'An increasing number of high school and college-aged young people are identifying as Transgender. This report is an invaluable tool to guide coaches and administrators in providing equal opportunities for Transgender student athletes in a fair and just manner, based on reliable information and data,' said NCLR sports project director Helen J. Carroll, a co-author of the report.

The 56-page report acknowledges that Transgender rights in schools have received some attention in recent years, but states that 'this issue has not been adequately addressed in the context of athletics.'

The report goes on to say that 'Few high school or collegiate athletic programs, administrators, or coaches are prepared to fairly, systematically, and effectively address a Transgender student's interest in participating in athletics. The majority of school athletic programs have no policy governing the inclusion of Transgender student athletes, and most coaches are unprepared to accommodate a Transgender student who wants to play on a sports team. In fact, most school athletic programs are unprepared to address even basic accommodations, such as knowing what pronouns or names to use when referring to a Transgender student, where a Transgender student should change clothes for practice or competition, or what bathroom or shower that student should use.'

In short, the report found that:

'The adoption of Transgender-inclusive policies and practices dispels stereotypes and fears about gender diversity. When Transgender students are stigmatized and excluded, even non-Transgender students may experience pressure to conform to gender-role stereotypes as a way to avoid being bullied or harassed themselves.

'Failure to adopt Transgender-inclusive participation policies is hurtful to and discriminates against Transgender students because they may be denied the opportunity to participate in school sports.

'Failure to adopt inclusive participation policies also hurts non-Transgender students by conveying a message that the values of non-discrimination and inclusion are less important than values based on competition and winning. Schools must model and educate about non-discrimination values in all aspects of school programming, not only for students, but for parents and community members as well.

'Failure to adopt policies that ensure equal opportunities for Transgender student athletes may also result in costly and divisive litigation. A growing number of states and localities are adopting specific legal protections for Transgender students. In addition, state and federal courts are increasingly applying sex discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination against Transgender people.

'Several studies show that schools are often hostile places for Transgender students and other students who do not conform to stereotypical gender expectations. These students are frequently subjected to peer harassment and bullying. This mistreatment can lead to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and low self-esteem. When a school or athletic organization denies Transgender students the ability to participate in sports because of their gender identity or expression, that condones, reinforces, and affirms their social status as outsiders who deserve the hostility they experience from peers.'

The report provides model policies created by 'leading athletic, legal, and medical experts' for the full inclusion and integration of Transgender students in high school and college athletics 'that ensure the safety, privacy, and dignity of all student athletes.'

It also provides recommendations for athletic administrators, coaches, students, parents, and media, and includes an in-depth list of local and national resources to help address Transgender issues in school athletics.

In October 2009, NCLR and It Takes A Team! invited experts on Transgender issues in law, medicine, advocacy, and athletics to take part in a national think tank on equal opportunity for Transgender student athletes. This conference, which lasted for several days, was the first step in producing the report that would come out a year later.

The report is intended for all parties involved with high school-level or collegiate-level athletics, including college presidents, high school state athletic association leaders, intercollegiate athletic conference commissioners, school board members, school principals and district superintendents, and sport governing organization leaders.

'We are confident that the report will be an essential guide for high school and college athletic leaders as they adopt policies to ensure that all student athletes, including Transgender students, will have equal opportunities to enjoy sports,' said Kathryn E. Olson, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, a national charitable educational organization dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through physical activity, education, programming, and public policy advocacy.

'Educators and parents must be open to this challenge if we are to create educational institutions that value and meet the needs of all students,' said report co-author Dr. Pat Griffin, former director of It Takes A Team! 'Once we recognize that Transgender young people are part of school communities across the United States, educational leaders have a responsibility to ensure that these students have equal access to opportunities in all academic and extracurricular activities in a safe and respectful school environment.'

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