The controversial policy governing the participation of transgender athletes proposed by the Minnesota State High School League back in September has finally passed. Despite the vocal opposition by conservative groups that ran two offensive ads in anticipation of the votes, the policy passed easily 18 for, 1 against, 1 abstention.
Despite my concerns that the inflammatory ads would increase opposition to the policy and pressure the MSHSL to further revise or again postpone a vote, this did not happen. Though the standing-room only crowd that was comprised of supporters and opponents does suggest that the issue gained far more publicity than many other policies have. (Minnesota is the 33rd state to implement a policy on the participation of transgender students in sports.)
There are many issues, though, that remain. One, which I wrote about the other day, is about how individual schools will determine the use of locker rooms. A second is about the exemption of private, religious schools from the policy. Though this exemption is not surprising, it raises issues similar to ones we have seen regarding these schools and how their prescriptions on gender affect student athletes–especially those who are not in the school. For example, there have been cases of religious schools refusing to compete against public school football teams that have girls on the team. This forces the public school to take some kind of stand whether that means forgoing a game or compelling the female student(s) to sit the game out for the sake of the team. I would not be surprised to see something similar arise when/if a religious school becomes aware that a transgender student is on the team. This also leads back to the issue of maintaining the privacy of students, which I still see as being very difficult under the conditions of this policy.
Finally, I was quite surprised to read that the policy only addresses transgirls’ participation on girls’ teams because there is a state policy that already states that girls can participate on boys’ teams. This misses the point entirely and actually affirms the basic premise that the Child Protection League Action put forth in their ads–that these students aren’t real boys/girls. The Minnesota policy should have applied to all transgender students and included protections for everyone. What does it mean that transboys are not included in this policy? Will there be no attempts at privacy protections for them? Transgirls are not real boys dressed up as girls. Transboys are not real girls trying to be boys. I am unsure about how many people in Minnesota really understand what transgender means.
I am going to close with a link to an interview with transgender teen Jazz Jennings. I first heard abut Jazz when she was one of several children featured on a 20/20 episode about transgender children. At the time she was the one of the youngest cases of transgender identity. Jazz, who does not live in Minnesota, is now in her teens and, because of a transgender policy in her state, has been allowed to play sports in accordance with her gender identity. But Jazz faced discrimination as a youth soccer player. She was not allowed to play in games with girls and tried playing with boys but did not enjoy the experience. For a couple of years, before US Soccer Federation developed a transinclusive policy, she practiced with girls and sat out the games. Jazz cites former basketball player Kye Allums, as a role model. The two have met several times.
Despite a state policy that allows Jazz to play in accordance with her confirmed gender identity, she said that she still faces blatant discrimination. She continues to receive support from her family, friends, and coaches. I think that this is important to remember. Discrimination does not evaporate just because policies exist. Given the controversy over the Minnesota policy and the fact that many high schools are reluctantly supporting it, everyone should remain diligent that transgender students are able to participate.