New Biden proposal addresses transgender athletes


Graphic illustration by Ashley Huang

The proposal reignited debate over the eligibility of transgender student athletes to compete, with some arguing that Title IX should protect fairness and inclusivity in women’s sports.

By Nicole Ge, Lynbrook High School - CA

On April 6, the Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Education proposed a rule that offers educational institutions a new framework for formulating eligibility standards for transgender student-athletes. The proposed policy allows schools to create their own policies while ensuring that all students have equal opportunities in sports. However, the new rule has ignited controversy regarding the extent to which transgender athletes should be allowed to participate in sports alongside cisgender girls and women.

The proposal requires universities and K-12 schools, who receive federal funding to take into account age, level of competition and the nature of a sport when developing policies that would prevent transgender student athletes from competing. For example, basketball and tennis may warrant different restrictions due to varying physical demands. Nevertheless, the proposal forbids outright bans against transgender athletes, allowing them to compete in sports depending on the school’s policies and discretion. The U.S. Department initiated the proposal to alleviate uncertainty surrounding the eligibility of transgender students in sports and to provide clarity for students, parents and coaches.

“At face value, I do not like the law,” Lynbrook Gender and Sexuality Alliance member Charlotta “Charlie” Dai said. “It does forbid the direct banning of transgender athletes, however it gives loopholes for states and schools to ban them, albeit with different wording. It does not have the effect necessary to combat the rampant transphobia in national discussions in women’s sports.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has already made changes to rules regarding the eligibility of transgender female student-athletes to compete. In 2022, transgender women need to have taken a testosterone-suppressing treatment for a year before competing against other cisgender women. However, since August 2022, the NCAA has required athletes to meet required specific testosterone levels that vary by sport.

The ongoing debate regarding transgender athletes highlights the challenges of balancing inclusivity and fairness in sports. Some individuals are concerned that including transgender athletes in women’s sports may violate Title IX, which aims to promote equality and fairness in sports.

A key issue in this debate is whether transgender girls possess a testosterone-based advantage over cisgender girls, which could potentially undermine fair competition. If this is the case, it is argued that Title IX should be used to protect the rights of cisgender girls and women, and to ensure fairness in competition in sports.

“There is a biological difference between transgender women and cisgender women,” track and cross country runner Lily Fang said. “I believe the best way to have transgender athletes compete in sports is to create a new division for them.”

This idea falls in line with the fairly recent ruling by the International Swimming Federation, which banned transgender women from competing in women’s events in June 2022. The ruling came three months after Lia Thomas, a transgender woman on the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team, won the NCAA Division I swimming championship in the 500-yard women’s freestyle, highlighting the issue of balancing equity and inclusivity in sports. FINA’s solution to maintaining an inclusive environment was to establish a new, “open” category for transgender women to compete in in the future. The public response to the ruling was divided, similar to the reaction to the Biden proposal. Some argued that the ban was discriminatory towards transgender athletes and lacked scientific evidence to support it.

“If a person identifies as a woman, then they are a woman, and if a man identifies as a man, then they are a man,” Dai said. “Title IX is against sex-based discrimination, and to discriminate against transgender athletes based on their sex would be to violate Title IX. There is also no known advantage for trans athletes in sports.”

Past research has led to inconclusive evidence over whether transgender women athletes do have an unfair advantage in competition. While some studies suggest that transgender women may have a performance advantage over cisgender women, other research has shown that hormone therapy and testosterone suppression, which has been implemented at the collegiate level, can significantly decrease muscle mass, bone density, and other physical characteristics, leveling the playing field and reducing the possibility of unfair advantage.

Many fear that the proposal may encourage more discrimination against transgender athletes. While the law prohibits bans on transgender athletes to participate in sports, many see the proposal as a disguised way for schools to legally restrain transgender athletes from elite and collegiate sports through their enforced policies.

The proposal marks the first time the government has directly addressed this issue. This is an important first step toward finding a solution that balances fairness and inclusivity while protecting transgender students’ access to sports.

This story was originally published on The Epic on May 8, 2023.