Major controversy continues to surround the LGBTQ population and athletics, whether it is in high school sports, or even nationally in elite athletic competitions like the Olympics. As the transgender population in the United States grows yearly, (stated by Dr. Meerwikk on pubmed.gov) so does the transgender athletic population. It is important people are educated on this topic, especially athletes, as people work together to establish fair and inclusive athletic policies. In this article, we will dive into different points of discussion, and when it comes to LGBTQ in sports, we will learn about the common perspectives people take.
“Do transgender athletes have an unfair advantage?”
Within the past couple of years, the debate has arisen in the media and within politics, specifically around transgender women and cisgender women in sports. (Cisgender is a term for a person identifies with the same gender they were assigned at birth). It is argued that biologically, transitioning normally happens following puberty. So, hypothetically if a biologically male athlete goes through puberty, they get better bone structure, put on muscle, enhance skills, etc., and then they transition. Testosterone levels go down, but transgender people will always have the advantage of qualities they had during puberty. Therefore, some argue that it is unfair for a transgender woman to compete alongside cisgender women because trans women may still have male “advantages” like higher bone density, larger lung capacity, larger hearts, and higher testosterone levels than a cisgender woman does not have. However, Katrina Karkazis states “there is a general lack of data showing that higher testosterone levels are correlated with improved athletic performance”, in the article “The Misuses of Biological Sex”. Additionally, it is important to note that among cisgender men and women, there are natural differences within their anatomy.
Any cisgender woman, compared to another woman may have a different body type. Some women are naturally very strong, very fast, etc. “It is as simple as some people are good at sports, and some people are not, sometimes being transgender is unrelated”, states educator, Shoshana K. Goldberg. An overall takeaway is that being transgender doesn’t nessacerily guarantee that you have an advantage or disadvantage in the sport.
Transgender athletes face many barriers when it comes to their ability to participate in sports. A recent study, (conducted by Bethany Jones, who attends Loughborough University), showed that transgender men are significantly more likely to participate in team sports than transgender women but this difference is not apparent for individual sports.
Transgender women have previously stated that the primary barrier to their participation is the lack of an environment that is both inclusive and comfortable, and this could contribute to their decreased participation in team sports. This trend stays the same when it comes to younger athletes getting into sports, “47% of LGBTQ youth are less likely to engage in sports than their heterosexual peers largely because of the abuse that they have either experienced or anticipated experiencing” (Dr. George Cunningham from College of Education and Human Development). It is clear that most athletic environments and programs have not been the most welcoming place for transgender athletes. However, not only the athletes who feel this way. Coaches and administrators that are LGBTQ report facing limited access to jobs and treatment discrimination in the workplace. Transgender athletes, coaches, etc. long for an environment where they can express their identities and at the same time feel a sense of belonging to that program. Most athletic programs can’t or won’t provide this, and therefore, there is a lack of participation amongst LGBTQ athletes.
Other factors that could lead to lack of participation include sports clothing. Traditionally, uniforms for sports are form-fitted and physically revealing. This could pose an issue for transgender athletes who are not comfortable having certain body parts visible, whether the body parts were assigned at birth, or the athlete is in the process of transitioning. Additionally, locker rooms are spaces often segregated by gender and transgender athletes may be excluded from areas that match their gender identity. Restricting athletes from these areas may cause an athlete to feel left out by their teammates, or feel invalidated by their sex. All in all, sports programs tend to be a toxic place for people who are LGBTQ, but there are fixes people can make to make sports a more welcoming environment for them.
One story that I remember from a few years ago was two female-identifying runners who were transgender and spoke up about the discrimination they have faced, specifically being athletes. Both girls responded to a complaint stating that they both had “competitive advantages”. Terry Miller, one of the two athletes responds with “I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community and meaning in my life. It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored.” Read the full article here- https://www.courant.com/sports/high-schools/hc-sp-transgender-policy-runners-respond-20190619-20190620-5x2c7s2f5jb6dnw2dwpftiw6ru-story.html
In conclusion, light must be shed on this controversial topic, as it is becoming more predominant as the numbers of LGBTQ athletes continue to rise. There are still many improvements to be made on sports programs concerning LGBTQ athletes and coaches. To accommodate for LGBTQ in sports programs, some argue that sports should be gender-neutral, or transgender athletes should be put in a separate category for certain sports. Others think that athletes should be allowed to compete with whatever gender they identify with. Regardless, sports programs must come up with policy measures that are more inclusive and fair to transgender athletes. At the end of the day, transgender people have the same rights to participate in sports as any other person does!
GLSEN. 1 July 2019, www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2019-10/GLSEN-Transgender-Inclusion-High-School-Athletics.pdf. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022.
Karkazis, Katrina. Lecture. The misuses of Biological Sex. The Lancet, www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)32764-3/fulltext#:~:text=Whether%20one%20is%20entering%20into,to%20the%20organisation%20of%20society.&text=Bodies%20troubled%20these%20schemes%20and%20socially%20untenable%20categorisations%20ensued. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022.
Meerwikk, Esther, editor. Pub Med. pubmed.gov. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022.
NCAA. www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/mind-body-and-sport-harassment-and-discrimination-lgbtq-student-athletes. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022.