Jan 15, 2021
ransgender athletes are getting an ally in the White House next week as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports — although state legislatures, Congress and the courts are all expected to have their say this year, too.
Attorneys on both sides say they expect President-elect Joe Biden’s Department of Education will switch sides in two key legal battles — one in Connecticut, the other in Idaho — that could go a long way in determining whether transgender athletes are treated by the sex on their birth certificates or by how they identify.
Debate is also expected in statehouses. Last year, bills to restrict transgender athletes’ participation to their gender assigned at birth were brought up in 17 states, although only one, Idaho’s, became law.
It may ultimately fall to Congress to clarify once and for all whether Title IX, the civil rights law that guarantees equal opportunities for women and girls in education, protects or bars the participation of transgender females in women’s sports, said Elizabeth Sharrow, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts.
“I think if they do that, lawmakers at the state level can propose laws, but it doesn’t mean those proposals are going to be taken seriously in the legislative bodies they serve in or that if the state passes those laws anyway that they would necessarily be considered legitimate,” she said. “The courts will sort that out.”
During his campaign, Biden committed to restoring transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.
“States that like Idaho attempt to bar trans girls from girls sports, regardless of age of transition, medical intervention or anything else, with a new federal administration, will now be risking lawsuits by the federal government, Justice Department intervention and the loss of federal funding,” said Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice.
In Idaho, a law signed in March became the nation’s first to prohibit transgender students who identify as female from playing on female teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. The law was supported by President Donald Trump’s administration but blocked from implementation by a federal judge while a legal challenge by ACLU proceeds.