Thursday, September 22, 2011

WSF Releases Position Statement on Intersex Athletes

The Women’s Sports Foundation has released a position statement this week on the Participation of Intersex Athletes in Women’s Sports. The primary authors of the position paper, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Erin Buzuvis, are to be commended for articulating a position that is clear, reasoned and based on the science of what we know about intersex conditions and competitive equity rather than the hysteria, sexism and prejudice that too often guide discussions about the participation of intersex athletes.

The WSF position statement stands in stark contrast to the “improved” policy recently announced by the IOC and IAAF. These organizations have struggled to correct the shameful treatment of South African runner, Caster Semenya, at the 2009 World Championships. Unfortunately the revised policy they have produced requires medical “treatment” of women athletes who have intersex conditions in order for them to be eligible to compete. The IOC and IAAF revision does eliminate the possibility that competitors can challenge an athlete’s sex because of, what they perceive as, masculine appearance or performance. This is a huge step in the right direction, but only a step. Moreover, the policy is inherently sexist because it does not address men’s sports at all. Male competitors who have exceptional athletic performances or who have exceptionally high levels of naturally produced testosterone are not regulated. To the contrary, they are celebrated as stud athletes and champions. Only intersex women who may have higher than typical levels of testosterone are regulated. I wrote more extensively about about the IOC/IAAF policy here and here.

As the WSF position paper clearly states, testosterone levels are only one determinant of athletic performance. In addition, the testosterone levels of non-intersex women athletes (and male athletes) vary widely. To require medical intervention for women athletes with intersex conditions is to pursue a paradoxical goal of competitive balance when achieving a competitive edge is the whole point of trying to win any athletic competition.

The WSF position statement is a sane and humane alternative for sports organizations seeking guidance in formulating their own policies on the participation of intersex athletes. If your school, athletic conference or sport governing organization is contemplating the adoption of such a policy, I highly recommend taking a good look at the WSF position statement.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NCAA Adopts Trans-Inclusive Policy

The NCAA announced a policy yesterday that clarifies their position on the participation of transgender student-athletes in sex-separated sports. The policy is largely based on recommendations included in On The Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes, which I am proud to have co-authored with Helen Carroll of the NCLR Sports Project.

The NCAA should be applauded for being proactive in adopting the policy and for developing comprehensive educational materials for school administrators, athletic directors and coaches to assist them in understanding transgender identity in general and the NCAA policy and medical bases for it. The coupling of the policy and educational materials will be an essential part of ensuring a positive and informed response from NCAA member schools. I’ve found in working with coaches and sports administrators that most have extremely limited information about transgender identity and lots of misinformation and concerns about what it means to enable transgender athletes to participate on sports teams according to their gender identity. The NCAA resources provide college sports leaders with the basic information they need to follow the NCAA policy.

This is especially important because the NCAA policy applies only to post-season competition, which is what the NCAA sponsors. Individual schools and athletic conferences must also adopt policies that govern regular season competition. The educational resources that the NCAA has provided will be extremely important as individual schools and athletic conferences follow the NCAA’s lead in adopting their own policies.

The goal should be for administrators at all levels – individual school, athletic conference and NCAA - to all adopt the same policy. The ball is now in the court of individual schools and athletic conferences to make sure that this happens.
The NCAA policy enables transgender student-athletes to participate according to their gender identity and “maintains a relative balance of competitive equity among sports teams,” as stated in the NCAA press release.

The NCAA can be criticized for getting a lot of things wrong as they work to manage the complexity of the business of college athletics, but they got this one right.

Friday, September 2, 2011

In The Life Episode on LGBT Issues in Sport

In The Life is featuring an episode on LGBT issues in sports in September. Look for the local TV listings for PBS stations in your area to see when it will air or you can watch it here: