Story at a glance
- A law was passed in Florida that bans trans girls and women from competing on female sports teams.
- Several additional states, like Mississippi, Idaho and Ohio, have similar laws or proposed bills.
- Experts say there is no data or scientific evidence to support the exclusion of transgender athletes from girls’ sports.
On June 1, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that would ban trans athletes from participating on female sports teams at the high school and college level. It states that individuals with a biological sex indicated as male on their birth certificates cannot participate on girls’ sports teams. Several other states have proposed or passed similar legislation, including Mississippi, Minnesota, Idaho, Ohio and Tennessee.
Politicians who support the bans say that this is an issue of fairness and of protecting girls’ sports. Experts say that this fear is not well supported.
“This argument that trans people are somehow going to ruin sports as we know it is not based on anything connected to fact,” said Vinnie Pompei, who conducted a survey of LGBTQ+ youth in California for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, to The Mercury News.
Physician and geneticist Eric Vilain, who has studied sex differences in athletes and advised the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA, said to NPR that the proposed laws are not based in scientific evidence and "target women who have either a different biology or ... simply look different."
Biologists who study genetics, hormones and performance of the human body have examined this issue for many years. There might be some advantage that biological men have on average, but this does not mean that there is always such an advantage or that there is a benefit to taking a hard line on banning individuals from sports.
“We know that men have, on average, an advantage in performance in athletics of about 10% to 12% over women, which the sports authorities have attributed to differences in levels of a male hormone called testosterone,” says Vilain to NPR. “But the question is whether there is in real life, during actual competitions, an advantage of performance linked to this male hormone and whether trans athletes are systematically winning all competitions. The answer to this latter question, are trans athletes winning everything, is simple — that's not the case.”
Although experts have been researching hormones and athletic ability for years, there’s no consensus on what really affects a person’s ability to perform.
“The science of whether testosterone in real life is actually providing an advantage in competition is not clearly established,” says Vilain to NPR.
There’s no scientific evidence that someone who was assigned male at birth would definitively have a competitive advantage over someone who was assigned female at birth. Both women and men have a wide range of physical capabilities, and it’s likely that athletic performance is much more complex than hormones and genetics.
Another important point is that women who may look different may be asked to prove their sex in order to compete under these laws. In a letter to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), the National Women’s Law Center writes, the proposed ban for the state “would not only exclude transgender students from sports but would also harm cisgender girls and women who fall outside stereotypical notions of femininity, simply because they are very tall or muscular, have short hair, wear masculine clothing, or otherwise choose to present in more traditionally masculine ways.”
“If, as many of these lawmakers claim, fairness is their goal, they should turn their attention to the unfair advantages many cisgender, white athletes receive by virtue of little more than their zip code—including the remaining gap in resources between boys and girls programs,” according to the National Women’s Law Center.
“Trans youth are hearing powerful politicians say that their identities are invalid and that they are a threat to their peers,” says Jack Turban, a Fellow in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, to The Mercury News. “Though they may know this is not true, hearing it over and over takes a serious toll and can drive anxiety and depression. As a therapist who treats these young people, it is heartbreaking to see.”
In Florida, the Human Rights Campaign plans to sue Gov. DeSantis over the new legislation.
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