Article

Why reversing a discriminatory ‘transgender participation’ policy was the right move

June 02, 2020

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued a letter addressing a “transgender participation” policy adopted by a high school athletic conference and multiple school districts in the state of Connecticut. The “Revised Transgender Participation Policy” adopted by the schools aimed to include students identifying as transgender to compete on athletic teams and in athletic events that aligned with their preferred, rather than their biological, sex. In its Letter of Impending Enforcement, the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed both the conference and the schools of the findings yielded from its months-long investigation.

As the letter explained, the OCR found that the policy, “by permitting the participation of certain male student-athletes in girls’ interscholastic track in the state of Connecticut . . . denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits.” Further, the OCR determined that the policy violated Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs including athletics. Both the conference and the schools now have until June 4 to bring their policies into alignment with Title IX.

In this case, the DOE made the right move. The policy addressed in this finding was clearly discriminatory toward biological females. While it is true that some female athletes are capable of defeating male athletes they may compete against in athletic competitions, it is undeniable that biological males enjoy a natural advantage in such contests. Expecting young women to overcome those disadvantages in order to succeed or merit recognition is plainly discriminatory. Not only this, but to insist that biological females take on such a burden for the sake of social progress is completely irresponsible.

One can certainly understand the desire to create policies that will allow students identifying as transgender to enjoy a typical high school experience, including the opportunity to participate in athletics. Those who struggle with gender dysphoria or adopt a gender identity that does not conform to their biological sex are sure to experience significant hardships as a result. No person of goodwill wishes to see these hardships exacerbated or transgender students discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity. But even so, it defies all reason to assume that the appropriate remedy to these issues is to create policies that are inherently discriminatory toward biological females. 

Indeed, forcing female athletes to compete against biological males, regardless of their gender identity, is itself a reversal of the very antidiscrimination measures created to secure equal opportunities for women. And to put it succinctly, there are no circumstances in which they should be forced to do so. As our society seeks solutions for transgender athletes, we need not deny biological realities or oppose equality in the name of social progress. 

Speaking of the inherent disadvantage, Christiana Holcomb, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing three female athletes in Connecticut, stated, “Girls shouldn’t be reduced to spectators in their own sports.” And sadly, that is exactly the result of the current policy—not in the abstract, but in the experience of several individuals. The inclusive “transgender participation” policy has stifled the ability of multiple young women to excel or distinguish themselves despite considerable training and skill.

There is nothing bigoted or discriminatory in acknowedging that the solutions proposed by the “transgender participation” policy are fundamentally misguided. Indeed, this is ultimately about fairness and equality. Female athletes deserve the same opportunities afforded to male athletes in Connecticut (and elsewhere). And more than ill-advised, it is immoral to deny young women the opportunity to compete in fair and equal contests because of disadvantages created by novel social policy.

Finally, it should be noted that opposition to policies like this is not about opposing people. Christians believe every person is created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (Gen. 1:27). This applies to everyone, including people who identify as transgender, and it means that Christians should oppose any mistreatment or efforts to discriminate against those who are made in God’s image. 

Opposing the “transgender policy” is about opposing discrimination, not promoting it. Saying that biological males shouldn’t compete against biological females is not a backhanded way of insulting those who are transgender; it’s about promoting fairness and equality. It is true, of course, that Christians reject the ideology behind transgenderism and that we believe any attempt to escape the reality of one’s biological sex is mistaken. But this is not about that. It’s about reversing a policy where everyone loses. And for the moment, it’s enough to celebrate this action by the DOE as a win for young women.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester serves as the Chair of Research in Christian Ethics at the ERLC. He is also pursuing a Th.M. in Public Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Josh is married to McCaffity, and they have two children. Read More by this Author