In recent years, there has been a growing debate surrounding the participation of transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports. After a wave of initial support for making such accommodations, the tide is turning. A Gallup poll finds that a larger majority of Americans now (69%) than in 2021 (62%) say transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete on sports teams that conform with their birth gender. Likewise, fewer endorse transgender athletes being able to play on teams that match their current gender identity—26%, down from 34%.
During this same time period, an increasing number of sports associations and states have recognized that bans on transgender athletes are necessary to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports. Here is what you should know about the issue.
What are bans on transgender athletes in sports?
Bans on transgender athletes in sports refer to policies that prevent people who identify as transgender from participating in sports that are consistent with their gender identity. The bans are most commonly applied to biological males who identify as transgender (transgender women). Few biological women who identify as transgender (transgender men) have sought access to competitions against male athletes.
Why are such bans on transgender athletes necessary?
There are four primary reasons such bans are needed.
To uphold biological reality.
God created male and female as distinct and complementary sexes. Biological differences between males and females are to be honored and cherished rather than used to gain an unfair advantage. By upholding biological reality, we can ensure that women’s sports remain a space for female athletes to compete on equal footing.
To ensure fair competition.
A key reason why such bans are needed is because biological differences between males and females can provide an unfair advantage in certain sports. Male puberty can result in physiological advantages such as increased muscle mass, bone density, and lung capacity, which can impact athletic performance. By allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports, it is argued that the level playing field for women is compromised. Maureen Collins, writing for Alliance Defending Freedom, has highlighted about a dozen examples of how women have been disadvantaged by competing against men.
To protect women’s opportunities.
Girls and women should have equal opportunities to excel in sports without facing unfair competition. Title IX, a federal law in the United States, was designed to ensure equal athletic opportunities for women. Allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports limits the opportunities available to women, as scholarships, records, and other achievements may be dominated by transgender athletes.
To preserve the integrity of women’s sports.
Maintaining separate categories for males and females is essential to preserve the integrity and essence of women’s sports. Women’s sports have historically provided a platform for female athletes to showcase their skills and achievements, and allowing transgender women to compete undermines this tradition.
Bans on transgender athletes in girls and women’s sports are necessary measures to protect the sanctity, fairness, and opportunities of women’s sports. Christians should uphold biological reality, protect women’s opportunities, and preserve the sanctity of women’s sports by supporting such bans.
Where are such bans on transgender athletes currently in place?
As of August 2023, 23 states in the United States have enacted laws to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports aligned with their gender identity
These bans apply to both K-12 and collegiate level sports teams. The states with bans on transgender athlete participation in college sports include:
Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The Supreme Court has declined to intervene in enforcing bans on transgender athletes in West Virginia, affirming the constitutionality of such restrictions.
In April, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that would bar transgender women and girls from participating in athletic programs designated for women. The bill has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate or being signed into law by President Biden.
However, Biden’s Department of Education proposed a rule change that—while not allowing a blanket ban—would give universities and K-12 schools the discretion to limit the participation of transgender students if they conclude that including transgender athletes could undermine competitive fairness or potentially lead to sports-related injuries.
Which sports organizations ban biological males from competing against girls and women?
In 2022, the Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body for cycling, announced a testosterone limit of 2.5 nmol/L for biologically male cyclists who want to compete with women.
Around that same time, FINA, the governing body for swimming, barred biological males from competing in women’s events.
World Rugby also has a complete ban on biological males competing in international women’s rugby “because of the size, force- and power-producing advantages conferred by testosterone during puberty and adolescence, and the resultant player welfare risks this creates.”
Earlier this year, World Athletics (WA), the governing body for track and field and other running competitions, implemented a policy that biological males who went through male puberty can no longer compete in women’s events at international competitions. WA also ruled that to compete as a woman, athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD), who have congenital conditions that cause atypical sex development, must have a testosterone level below 2.5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) for at least 24 months before an international competition.