Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives funding from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education proposes a new rule to address transgender participation in sports specifically – which is not currently addressed in the agency’s regulations. While the proposed rule would likely prevent schools from enforcing blanket bans on transgender athletes participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, schools might still be permitted to limit transgender students from participating in some instances. For example, the proposed rule suggests that fairness in competition or prevention of sport-related injuries might justify some limitations placed on transgender students.
There are 300,100 transgender youth ages 13-17 and 398,900 transgender youth adults ages 18-24 in the United States. Research indicates that transgender students will benefit from participation in sports in terms of health, academic achievement, and social relationships. Being prevented from participating in sports in a gender-affirming manner will likely add to the already challenging environments that transgender students face at school, including high levels of harassment, discrimination, and exclusion, which lead to poorer health and other negative outcomes.
Scholars present recommended revisions aimed at ensuring that the rule adequately captures the full extent of protections for transgender youth athletes under Title IX. These suggestions would maximize the positive impact of the rule, especially for transgender youth in grades K-8, and further narrow the scope of limitations that schools could place on transgender athletes. Scholars provide extensive research on sports participation’s benefits for all youth, particularly transgender youth, including positive physical and mental health outcomes, higher levels of academic achievement, and social benefits. They also provide findings that show the high rates of bullying, discrimination, and harassment transgender students experience in K-12 and higher education settings, as well as the unique barriers they face to equal participation in school programs and activities, including sports.