The Biden administration is trying to have it both ways on transgender participation in women’s sports with new Title IX rules introduced Thursday. The White House aims to put the burden on schools with rules rooted in biology to prove their case on male athlete bans from female leagues while theoretically allowing them to maintain such rules, giving the president a talking point 18 months from an election.
Under the long-anticipated proposal, the Department of Education outlined new guidelines that would invalidate bans on men in women’s sports currently implemented across 20 states. At the same time, schools that receive federal funding and therefore subject to Title IX stipulations may bar male athletes on female teams in competitive leagues.
“Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a press release. “Being on a sports team is an important part of the school experience for students of all ages.”
The Title IX amendments mandate schools evaluate a strict set of criteria before barring transgender-identified athletes from participation in leagues contrary to their biological gender. School rules must be “substantially related to the achievement of an important educational objective” and must “minimize harms to students whose opportunity to participate on a male or female team consistent with their gender identity would be limited or denied.”
“Fairness in competition may be particularly important for recipients in some sports, grade and education levels, and levels of competition,” the guidelines read. “The Department anticipates that some uses of sex-related eligibility criteria would satisfy the standards in the proposed regulation in some sports, grade and education levels, and levels of competition.”
In other words, schools may bar men who identify as women from certain sports teams if institutions meet the competitive criteria outlined by the federal Department of Education.
The reality of transgender spoilers in women’s sports came to fruition last summer when then-22-year-old male swimmer Lia Thomas captured the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championship in the 500-yard freestyle.
Thomas’s record-breaking win was far from an isolated incident of male dominance in female athletics. In 2021, male weightlifter Laurel Hubbard competed as a woman for New Zealand in the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Hubbard had participated in male weightlifting competitions until 2013.
In 2014, MMA fighter Fallon Fox, a man who competes as a woman at tournaments, defeated a female opponent with a knockout blow. Fox’s rival suffered a concussion, a broken orbital bone, and seven head staples.
Two months ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit heard a case out of Connecticut brought by the legal non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of high school girls who lost opportunities due to male participation.
“Four female athletes,” ADF wrote, “were consistently deprived of honors and opportunities to compete at elite levels because the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference adopted a policy that allows males who identify as female to compete in girls’ athletic events.”
In March, a former women’s cycling champion ended her athletic career after she lost to a male competitor in the female league.
“My sister and family sobbed as they watched a man finish in front of me, having witnessed several physical interactions with him throughout the race,” cyclist Hannah Arensman wrote in a statement. “Additionally, it is difficult for me to think about the very real possibility I was overlooked for an international selection on the U.S. team at Cyclocross Worlds in February 2023 because of a male competitor.”
While the Biden administration seeks a carve-out to allow leagues to prevent men from taking over competitive women’s sports, the federal guidelines bar states from enacting blanket barriers to males in female teams. Transgender-identified males will be afforded the same Title IX anti-discrimination protections as females at schools receiving federal tax dollars.