Editor's note: Dawn Ennis, managing editor of Outsports, has written a guest column challenging the goals of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, which has asked Congress to limit the participation of transgender girls and women who “have experienced all or part of male puberty" from participating in competitive girls’ and women’s sports.
I believe the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group wants the support of those of us fighting for inclusion of trans girls and women in sports.
That’s why I have privately reached out to them. They have promised to respond to questions I have about their organization and its goals. I do applaud their effort to bring us together: those of us who are advocating for equal rights, from courthouses to state houses, and those like former President Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sens. Rand Paul and Mitt Romney, who vociferously and wrongly claim that allowing trans girls and women to compete with other girls and women will destroy women’s sports.
It's an important issue that has been addressed by the Biden administration, which last month withdrew federal support of a landmark lawsuit in Connecticut that sought to ban transgender athletes from competing against girls in high school sports. Biden's executive order directing federal agencies to avoid discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation comes at a time when more than 20 states such as Tennessee have moved to pass legislation that will ban transgender athletes from competing in middle school and high school sports under their gender identity.
To me, the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group is like a runner tripping at the starting block. While I am encouraged by their promise to end vitriol and hopefully create a path toward inclusion, they have a long way to go to be a winner.
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As I see it, they’ve stumbled five times:
First stumble: Frequently wrong answers to FAQs
The working group website's answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” are rife with anti-inclusion propaganda. The response to almost every mention of a claim by a trans advocacy group is, “No. They are wrong.”
No matter what the context is, comparing women athletes to men, especially grown women to boys still in high school, is misogyny. Comparing trans women to men, or trans girls to boys, is transphobia.
But the biggest problem is the Working Group’s use of the phrase “biological sex,” which is frequently mentioned throughout its documentation. Those two words feature prominently in the ongoing debate over gender identity and sports.
Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who also happens to be trans, tweeted that the term “biological sex” was specifically created as a tool of oppression against the trans community.
The notion of “biological sex” was developed for the exclusive purpose of being weaponized against people. Courts are recognizing it. Now you should too. pic.twitter.com/pZzHdMQPOP
“Trans girls/women are biologically male,” the group's website says. No. That’s wrong: they’re transgender. They were presumed male at birth. Calling their bodies “biologically male” is transphobic. Instead, just say, “a trans girl’s body.”
Second stumble: Science fiction
Among the research cited is a 2020 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, led by pediatrician Thomas Roberts, M.D. He told NBC News he wants groups to stop misrepresenting his work.
“I’m definitely coming out and saying, ‘Hey, this doesn’t apply to recreational athletes, doesn’t apply to youth athletics,’” he said. “At the recreational level, probably one year is sufficient for most people to be able to compete.”
A transgender woman who transitions before or at puberty, “doesn’t really have any advantage,” said Roberts, when it comes to athletic performance. “So that young lady should be allowed to compete with all the other people who are born women.”
None of the other research cited compares an actual elite trans woman athlete with an elite cis woman athlete. The Working Group should rely only on relevant scientific data to determine a path forward.
Third stumble: One simple fact about trans athletes
All the citations about trans female athletes winning competitions fails to mention that just like every athlete, they don’t always win. They lose, but we rarely see those headlines in the mainstream media.
Chelsea Mitchell, one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit in Connecticut, beat one of the trans girls called “unbeatable” by Mitchell’s attorney. Not just once; Mitchell outran Terry Miller at least twice within nine days of filing that suit.
Fourth stumble: Founders overlooked one thing
Don’t look for anyone transgender on the list of founders. There are none. As trans athlete Chris Mosier tweeted, “If a working group on transgender athletes doesn't actually include a transgender person, isn't that just a bunch of cis people trying to make themselves look & sound inclusive?”
The founders are incredible athletes, coaches and sports experts, but none is an expert in medicine or science. It’s a point the Working Group disputes, saying it has founders with “extensive experience in the related science” without going into detail.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Donna de Varona is a former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She’s also one of more than 300 women athletes who signed a letter to the NCAA last summer, expressing opposition to transgender inclusion.
Several prominent trans women athletes are among supporters of the initiative, including Juniper Eastwood, the first out trans Division I cross country runner. They join Joanna Harper, a former elite marathoner and a researcher, and Renée Richards, M.D., the former professional tennis player and one of the first pro athletes to identify as transgender. Harper favors some form of inclusion; Richards joins her longtime friend, tennis icon Martina Navratilova, in firm opposition. Navratilova has been an outspoken critic of inclusion for years.
And then there’s Inga Thompson, the 10-time national champion cyclist and three-time Olympian. Thompson is a supporter of the Working Group and is also involved with anti-inclusion groups like Save Women’s Sports. Thompson opposes inclusion of trans women in women’s sports. She favors a separate “trans only” category, an idea that the Working Group has greenlit.
Fifth stumble: Segregation is wrong
I agree with the Working Group’s “solution” for trans female student-athletes in every case except those going through puberty, who either refuse or don’t have access to treatment to lower their levels of testosterone. Segregating them so that they’d have their own heats, events and receive scores separate from cisgender girls is wrong.
How would having them run around a track by themselves and be declared “the winner” be considered “fair?”
The outcome here would be transgender athletes losing the one thing that is at the heart of every sport: somebody wins and somebody loses. I don’t claim to have a perfect solution to this dilemma, but segregating athletes who are transgender from their cisgender competitors means every trans athlete, even the ones who “win,” lose.
The only path forward toward inclusion is one that gives every girl and every woman an equal opportunity to play sports. Only from that starting point can we all win.
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