Graphic by Nicole Miyoshi

NAIA Council of Presidents bans transgender athletes from women’s sports

By Samantha Campion, April 23, 2024

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Council of Presidents approved a new transgender participation policy April 8, in support of its statement of fair and safe competition for female athletes.

With a 20-0 council vote, the new policy was approved Monday, April 15, replacing the previous policy that only pertained to post-season play.

The NAIA is now the first national college association to require student-athletes to compete according to assigned sex at birth, effective Aug. 1, 2024.

“We know there are a lot of different opinions out there,” NAIA president Jim Carr told CBS Sports. “For us, we believed our first responsibility was to create fairness and competition in the NAIA…We also think it aligns with the reasons Title IX was created. You’re allowed to have separate but equal opportunities for women to compete.”

Sociologist associate professor Lara Killick shared insight on the historical foundation of sex segregation within sports and this presumption that all men are stronger and faster than all women.

“Sex segregation has been around for a very long time, but if we look at the scientific foundation for it with what we know now about bodies, the science doesn’t hold up anymore,” Killick said. “The female body is immensely capable of competing in elite sports.”

According to the NAIA’s new policy, all student-athletes are allowed to participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports, but only athletes that were born a biological female at birth can participate in women’s sports. The previous policy only pertained to post-season play.

In addition, a biological female athlete who has begun masculinizing hormone therapy will only be allowed to compete in internal institution activities or external competition that is not counted by the NAIA.

If an athlete has not begun masculinizing hormone therapy, they can participate without limitations.

This policy supports the separate sports categories for male and female student-athletes due to the “combination of strength, speed and stamina” that provides biological male student-athletes to have a competitive advantage, except for competitive cheer and dance.

Cal Poly Pomona associate head athletic director Ashley Musick indicated there are physiological differences between the male and female body. When a male undergoes puberty, their testosterone increases to promote muscular strength.

“Men have significantly more testosterone, a hormone that regulates muscle mass development and strength,” Musick said. “Women are strong and capable, but when we compare male and female bodies, there’s a physiologically difference because of the different levels of hormones.”

In a research study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, they found male bodies have other anatomical sex differences that aid in athletic performance including larger cardiorespiratory systems and greater bone mass density.

The conversation around transgender athlete participation in women’s sports gained media attention after the NCAA allowed Lia Thomas to compete in the 2022 swimming national championships. Thomas was on the men’s team for three seasons before she transitioned and became the first transgender athlete to win a national title.

More than a dozen student-athletes filed a lawsuit against the NCAA accusing them of violating their Title IX rights by allowing her to compete, noting a female student-athlete was denied first-team All-American honors when she did not make the finals of her event.

The plaintiff Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer, claimed allowing athletes assigned male at birth to participate in sex-separated sports reduces the competitiveness of women’s sports and takes away opportunities for female athletes.

The NCAA Transgender Student-Athlete Participation policy required her to provide documentation that proved one year of testosterone suppression treatment and a one-time serum testosterone level fell below the maximum allowable level for the sport.

The revised policy aims to replicate the Olympic Movement Policy with sport-by-sport eligibility requirements originally implemented January 2022, with three phrases of implementation.

The last phase will ask student-athletes to provide documentation at least twice a year that meets the sport-specific standards approved by the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports beginning Aug. 1, 2024.

There is limited scientific research studies on transgender athletes, therefore, it is unconfirmed whether transgender athletes have an unfair competitive advantage over cisgender women.

Some studies found transgender women can retain strength advantages over women even after three years of hormone therapy; however, other studies suggest one year is more realistic.

“There’s a focus on the trans female athlete being a threat or taking opportunities away, but the numbers do not bear that,” Killick said. “Since 2003, there have only been 32 out transgender athletes in collegiate sports, in 21 years. None of them received a scholarship.”

Advocates for transgender athlete participation have argued there should be no limitations because trans women are women and should be provided the opportunity to compete in sports.

There is a strong belief this is a humanity and political health care issue as the transgender community is experiencing restricted access to gender affirming health care.

“I believe there are 39 states that are attempting to restrict gender affirming health care for trans people,” Killick said. “If the policy requires athletes to undergo gender affirming care, what happens if they live in a state that doesn’t provide access? These two conditions cannot coexist.”

Despite the NAIA’s new policy, the NCAA upholds its current policy, where the participation of transgender student athletes is determined by the national governing body of that sport.

Feature graphic by Nicole Miyoshi

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