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As Trans Bans Spread, Experts Weigh How to Balance Fairness and Inclusion in High School Sports

Kevin Mahnken, The 74 |

As legislation moves through statehouses around the country, students are facing an increasingly divided picture of athletic eligibility.

According to the online resource Transathlete.com, 16 mostly socially progressive states currently allow trans girls to compete in the category that matches their gender identity. Among the rest, some require they take medically prescribed hormone therapy, some require them to adhere to their natal sex, and some offer no recommendation.

“It’s so hard,” said Joanna Harper, a sports researcher at England’s Loughborough University, “How do you tell a 15- or 16-year old that they have to go on hormone therapy to play sports? It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to say, but for these very high-performing athletes, it does create a conundrum.”

To others, one consideration supersedes all others: the need to welcome trans children into all aspects of school life, including sports. Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the executive director of the advocacy group GLSEN (previously known as the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), said that no claims around competitive fairness could justify treating trans students any different from their cisgender peers (i.e., those whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth).

“To use words from another civil rights fight, we know that anything separate is not equal. We know that when we start differentiating across lines of identity, young people will not be served by that.”

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