Story at a glance

  • Several states are enacting legislation to restrict the rights of transgender Americans to participate in sports.
  • The Biden administration has not yet taken a firm stance on whether public schools must allow transgender students to participate in federally funded athletics programs.
  • LGBTQ+ advocates are pushing back and challenging legislation in court.

It’s been less than a month since President Biden signed an executive order preventing discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, and at least six states have introduced bills restricting the rights of transgender athletes. 

"Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports," said the executive order signed on Inauguration Day.

While the text alludes to the right of transgender students to participate in sports unrestricted, the Biden administration has not explicitly said as much, leaving room for interpretation as federal agencies, including the Department of Education, "consider whether to revise, suspend, or rescind such agency actions, or promulgate new agency actions, as necessary to fully implement statutes that prohibit sex discrimination.”


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In the final days of the Trump administration, the department sent out a memo that said the "prohibition on sex discrimination" in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to Title IX and claimed that educational programs and activities can still be restricted based on "biological sex." Last year, lawmakers introduced 20 bills that sought to ban transgender people from participating in athletics, including in public schools, by restricting students to teams for the sex or gender assigned to them at birth, according to the ACLU.

These bills have passed the House in North Dakota and Montana and the Senate in Mississippi, while similar bills are under consideration in Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. 

"It's a scientific fact males are much stronger [in their] upper body and in the big muscles of the body than the females are," Glen Casada, a Republican lawmaker in Tennessee, said during a hearing. "What we are doing here is attempting to protect the females who would compete as males in field hockey and wrestling and these other sports."


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An Arizona lawmaker is facing an ethics complaint, NBC News first reported, after he compared transgender people to farm animals at a committee hearing, saying, "What’s going to happen when someday someone wakes up and they want to go to a far extreme and identify as a chicken or something, for crying out loud. Where do we draw the line?”

But LGBTQ+ advocates are not letting up in their opposition. A bill in Idaho was held up in federal court last summer when a judge issued a temporary injunction as a result of a legal challenge from the ACLU, one of several groups campaigning against such legislation. Meanwhile, the bills clash with the National Collegiate Athletic Association's policy, which allows transgender athletes to participate under specific hormone requirements. 

“These bills are not addressing any real problem, and they’re not being requested by constituents. Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organizations attempting to sow fear and hate,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement, claiming that the bills were authored by anti-LGBTQ organizations including the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom (designated by Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group) and Eagle Forum.


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Published on Feb 16, 2021