In a wise and proactive move to conform with federal law, Minnesota is likely to join 32 other states and the NCAA in adopting guidelines for participation of transgender students in high school sports.
The run-up to today’s scheduled vote by the board of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) generated significant controversy — including strong opposition from groups that would ignore the reality that transgender kids have a rightful place in public schools and in prep sports.
Contrary to a misleading campaign by opponents, MSHSL board members will vote on sensible guidelines that promote a safe, nondiscriminatory environment for transgender athletes in the organization’s nearly 500 member schools. They should approve the proposal.
In addition to being the fair thing to do, the policy recognizes that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights prohibits discrimination against transgender student-athletes under Title IX — the federal provision that’s best known for requiring gender equity in sports and other school activities.
League administrators were not under pressure to set a transgender policy; there isn’t a pending complaint before them from a student or a school. Rather, MSHSL leaders say they drafted the proposal to be consistent with societal changes and to give their member schools guidance on the issue.
Under Title IX, “It’s not optional to have a policy that provides anything less than a full opportunity to participate,” Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center in California, told the Star Tribune this week.
Dave Stead, MSHSL executive director, said the proposed policy is designed to help schools determine eligibility. Among other things, students can be required to provide documentation that they are receiving hormone therapy, surgery and written acknowledgment of the gender change from parents or guardians.
The proposal also outlines an appeals process for students. If a transgender student is denied the opportunity to participate in an MSHSL-sponsored sport by a member school, the decision can be appealed to the league.
Despite those requirements, the plan generated significant pushback. Staff and board members received hundreds of e-mails on both sides of the issue. A scheduled league vote in early August was postponed because of the opposition, including a letter from the Minnesota Family Council, a Christian-based advocacy group that tries to promote biblical principles in public policy matters. The council, along with the Mankato-based Child Protection League, urged that the proposed policy be rejected.
In an apparent effort to stir up parents, some opponents have said that schools would be forced to let males and females shower together. In fact, the policy leaves it up to individual schools to “ensure reasonable and appropriate restroom and locker room accessibility for students.”
The only reference to those accommodations in the draft policy is among several “areas of awareness’’ for member schools. Other suggestions under that heading include developing a school plan to address issues for transgender students; using correct names and pronouns according to a student’s self-identification; and educating staff, parents and students on transgender sensitivity.
In support of the policy, Education Minnesota, the union that represents the state’s teachers, said that many of its members are coaches who want direction from the league on what to do if a transgender student wants to participate in a sport or other extracurricular activity.
It might be wise for more adults to listen carefully to transgender students and their peers.
Jae Bates participated in girls track and field at Hopkins High School before coming out as transgender and changing his name the summer before his junior year. Bates, who has since graduated, told the Star Tribune that his teammates were supportive and said, “I rarely ran into people with aggressive opposing opinions.”
Although the school said he could use either locker room, Bates changed in the nurse’s office or in a unisex bathroom at Hopkins. “I don’t think a lot of kids like changing in front of people,” Bates told a reporter. He added: “Conservatives are afraid of sexual harassment, but transgender people are more afraid.”