Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, and more urge NCAA to stand up for trans inclusion

Transgender woman swimmer Lia Thomas lesbian womens soccer star Megan Rapinoe trans male swimmer Schuyler Bailar queer WNBA basketball player Sue Bird
Transgender woman swimmer Lia Thomas lesbian womens soccer star Megan Rapinoe trans male swimmer Schuyler Bailar queer WNBA basketball player Sue Bird

Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, and other sports stars are urging the National Collegiate Athletic Association to allow transgender athletes to compete under their gender identity.

The NCAA last revised its policy on trans athletes in 2022. For a decade previously, it allowed trans women who’ve completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment to compete alongside cisgender women. The change in 2022 let the governing body for each sport to set standards on testosterone levels.

Now, after another college athletic association barred all trans women from participating in women’s sports, the star athletes and others are calling on the NCAA to stand up for inclusion. More than over 400 current and former NCAA, professional, Olympic, and Paralympic athletes sent an open letter expressing that sentiment to the NCAA Board of Governors, which is having a virtual meeting Thursday. It’s not clear if the trans policy is on the agenda, but “the end of April and beginning of May is typically a key rules-making period for the NCAA,” The Washington Post reports. The NCAA will also hold its annual inclusion forum this week.

“To deny transgender athletes the fundamental right to be who they are, to access the sport they love, and to receive the proven mental and physical health benefits of sport goes against the very principles of the NCAA’s Constitution,” says the letter. Its more well-known signers include WNBA coach Cheryl Reeve, soccer champion Megan Rapinoe, trans male swimmer Schuyler Bailar, and WNBA players Bird, Layshia Clarendon, and Brianna Turner.

Rapinoe, an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a group that advocates for LGBTQ+ equality in sports, also issued a statement through the organization: “The time is now for the NCAA and the nationwide athletic community to speak up and affirm that sports should be for everyone, including transgender athletes,” she said. “To my fellow cis women athletes: the time is now to say loud and clear that bans against trans athletes framed as ‘protecting women’s sports’ do not speak for us and do nothing to protect us. To the trans athletes fearing that they may be sidelined from the sport they love: I see you and hear you and I am WITH YOU. “

The letter continues, “Within the context of broad legislative attacks on the rights of trans people in the United States, opposition to trans athletes is driven by certain politicians who seek to control our bodies, not by science or data. Although trans exclusionary efforts claim to ‘protect women’s sports,’ in reality, they fail to address any of the real, documented threats to women in sports, namely unequal pay, failure to uphold Title IX, rampant sexual abuse and harassment of women and girl athletes, and a lack of equal resources for men’s and women’s teams (as we saw in March Madness tournaments just three years ago).”

“Despite claims by those suing the NCAA over trans inclusion, studies used to justify the exclusion of transgender athletes are methodologically flawed and misinterpreted to further discrimination,” the missive goes on. “In fact, the most current scientific review of transgender women in elite sport (published in 2022 by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES)) underscores that transgender women do not have an advantage over cis women in sport.”

The lawsuit in question was filed in March by several current and former college athletes, alleging that the NCAA violated their rights by allowing swimmer Lia Thomas, a trans woman, to compete against cisgender women. One of the plaintiffs is Riley Gaines, who has been particularly outspoken in her opposition to trans inclusion. Gaines and Thomas tied for fifth place in the 2022 NCAA National Championships. The letter points out that four cis women beat Thomas.

The letter from athletes was accompanied by a separate letter from Athlete Ally, 53 other LGBTQ+ advocacy, gender justice, and sports organizations and 56 PFLAG chapters nationwide, plus a letter from more than 300 scholars and academics.

Meanwhile, others are calling on the NCAA to follow the lead of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which represents small colleges and universities and recently barred transgender women from participating in women’s sports. A group called Champion Women is urging its supporters to email the NCAA and tell the organization to enact a blanket ban on trans women in women’s sports.

“The physical differences between males and females have significant impacts on performance in sports,” says a form email that users can personalize. “Ignoring these differences undermines the validity of women’s sports. We must respect and acknowledge biological realities to keep competition fair for everyone involved.”

“I want [a policy] to say that everyone is welcome to participate in sports, but just like weight categories or age categories, that people need to compete in their own category,” Champion Women CEO Nancy Hogshead told ESPN. “Nobody else gets to choose what category they compete in, except for transgender athletes, particularly men who identify as transgender.”