Trans Inclusion in Sports Seed Grants Program

In 2022, the Williams Institute and Women’s Sports Foundation launched a seed grants program to encourage new research focused on transgender students’ participation and inclusion in sports and related topics. Researchers from a variety of disciplines submitted proposals to inform current legal and policy discussions on transgender students’ participation in K-12 school sports.

We are pleased to announce that six proposals have been selected to receive awards.

Hearing the Embodied Experiences of Transgender Youth Athletes

Research on transgender young people under the age of 18 is extremely limited (Acklin, 2017) and no study, to our knowledge, has explored the experiences and opinions of trans youth athletes. This study and subsequent project explore how trans athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 explore and express their gender identities in sport, have experienced coming out and being out as trans in sport, and have navigated the institutions and cultures of sport within the United States. With the support of Chris Mosier, the ACLU, Athlete Ally, and state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, our team of gender-diverse researchers will interview youth who self-identify as trans athletes. Given the current political landscape in which trans athletes have been banned from sport in 18 states, special care will be given to exploring the thoughts and experiences of youth from their individual vantage points using a prosocial, power-sharing interviewing technique. Information gleaned from interviews will be confidential but shared with a general audience and policymakers through an educational media campaign in the beginning of 2023.

Anna Baeth, PhD
Director of Research, Athlete Ally
Ellie Roscher, MFA
Author, The Embodied Path
Ali Greey, PhD
PhD Candidate, University of Toronto
Closing the (Research) Gaps: Understanding Team Sport Participation, Physical Activity, and Mental Health Among Transgender and Gender Diverse Adolescents

In general, research shows that participating in sport and PA has positive effects on young people’s mental health. However, this research has relied on overwhelmingly cisgender samples of youth; the impacts of sport and physical activity in the lives of transgender (TGD) adolescents, specifically, are understudied. Descriptive research has not tracked TGD youths’ participation in sport over time, and it is unclear whether participating in sport and PA has the same benefits for TGD teens as for teens in general. We will address research gaps by 1) evaluating trends in TGD adolescents’ sport and PA participation from 2016 to 2019 to 2022, 2) testing relationships between sport, PA, and mental health concerns among TGD youth, and 3) understanding how team sport participation impacts the lives and mental health of TGD adolescent athletes using interviews with them, their parents, their coaches, and their cisgender teammates. Our research will provide much-needed pictures of trends in participation over recent years and of TGD youths’ mental health as it relates to sport and PA. We will share our work through academic manuscripts, a fact sheet, and a policy brief to provide much-needed data to researchers, policymakers, and advocates.

Sarah M. Espinoza
Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota
Jenifer K. McGuire
Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota
Political Determinants of Transgender and Nonbinary Health: A Quantitative Analysis of Youth School Sports Exclusion and Adult Health Beliefs and Behaviors

The Southeast region of the United States is home to more than one-third of the US transgender population (Williams Institute 2022). The region is also home to some of the most consistent and aggressive anti-trans political action in the country, much of it centered on limiting the inclusion or participation of trans and gender-diverse youth in sports (Krishnakumar 2021). This political action and its surrounding rhetoric, whether policies are implemented or resoundly defeated, creates a hostile social climate for trans and gender-diverse youth. To better understand the lasting effects of this legislative harassment, this project uses existing data from a survey of 4146 LGBTQ people in the US Southeast to analyze how acceptance and inclusion in school sports and athletics affects health beliefs and behaviors in adulthood for trans and nonbinary people. Further, this project examines the role of both anti-LGBTQ political rhetoric in the relationship between school sports/athletics experiences and adulthood health beliefs and behaviors. Finally, this project explores the role of age, race, education, income, and ability in moderating these relationships.

Austin H. Johnson, PhD
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Kenyon College
Brennan Miller, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Race, Ethnicity, Youth, and Social Equity (REYSE) Collaboratory, Clemson University
How Subnational Policies Shape Transgender Inclusion in Sports: Promoting High-Quality Data and Policy Analysis through Scholar-Applied Expert Partnerships

 We seek support for an ongoing collaboration between scholars who specialize in gender and public policy, and Athlete Ally, applied experts on LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports. Our aim is to increase knowledge about the policy factors that determine transgender (or “trans”) inclusion in interscholastic sport. We will: 1) extend longitudinal data collection of state-level public policy contexts, including high school athletic association (HSSA) inclusion policies and proposed anti-trans legislation targeting school-sponsored athletics, and 2) analyze, using both case study and large-N methods, the barriers and covariates of interscholastic trans athletic inclusion at the policy level. The absence of federal policy on these topics requires grounded analysis of factors determining policy at the subnational level. Our outputs will include: 1) a multi-year dataset of state-level policies and legislative actions on trans inclusion in sport, 2) promulgation of these data through and via social science data repositories, 3) public-facing reports to increase high-quality information about factors that prevent/encourage trans inclusion, 4) academic manuscripts for peer review, 5) policy reports for use among legislators and policymakers, and 6) a webinar to increase understanding of the issues among HSSA policymakers (key stakeholders in determining trans inclusion in sports at the local level). 

Elizabeth Sharrow, PhD
Associate Professor of Public Policy & History, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Logan Casey, PhD
Senior Policy Researcher & Advisor, Movement Advancement Project
Chris Mosier
Professional Athlete and Founder,
Christina Freibott
PhD Candidate, Boston University
Anne Lieberman, MA
Policy and Programs Director, Athlete Ally
Who’s at Play: Assessing the Impact of Sports Bans on Trans Students in Texas

In 2021, the State of Texas enacted HB 25, a law to restrict trans students’ access to athletics in K-12 public schools. Texas now requires that students participate in teams that correspond to their sex assigned at birth. The proposed research project will assess how the new law is shaping the lives of trans young people in the state. Through qualitative interviews with thirty trans high school students in Texas, I will investigate how HB 25 has affected their participation in school sports, specifically, and school activities, more generally. I will focus on two school districts, Austin Independent School District, which has supported trans students, and Leander Independent School District, where the leadership has been more hostile. I will engage with students directly affected by the new legislation and therefore will contribute to a greater understanding of if and how HB 25 has altered student’s experiences at school. As states across the country consider and adopt laws that limit trans students’ ability to participate in school athletics, my research will contribute to scholars’ and policymakers’ understanding of the impacts that these policies can have on trans young people.

Erika Slaymaker
PhD Candidate, University of Texas at Austin
Shaping Public Attitudes on Sports Participation by Transgender Youth

Since 2020, 15 states have enacted bans on transgender athletes in K-12 education (Sharrow 2021, Flores et al. 2022). Some of these bans (e.g., Idaho) also affect college athletics. Republican dominated states are more likely to pass these bans. There is public discomfort with sports participation by transgender athletes (Flores et al. 2020). The public is concerned about questions fairness in women’s athletics (Schiappa 2021). We request $4800 from the Williams Institute’s small grants program to conduct survey experiments around potential messaging that LGBTQ rights activists might deploy to change attitudes. 

Jami K. Taylor, PhD
Professor of Political Science, University of Toledo
Donald P. Haider-Markel, PhD
Professor of Political Science, University of Kansas
Daniel C. Lewis, PhD
Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science, Siena College
Patrick R. Miller, PhD
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Kansas