As reported by the Times earlier this month, new legislation in California could make that state the first to legally guarantee the rights of transgender high school athletes. California has already joined a group of more than half a dozen states with school policies that allow transgender athletes to choose whether to play sports with males or females. The above map shows these states, according to information provided by the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
Eight states have specific policies pertaining to transgender student athletes, while another five (plus DC) have trans-inclusive non-discrimination policies that apply to schools (which the ACLU has argued should legally extend to athletics). Three more have general non-discrimination policies that apply state-wide. There's a lot of overlap between these states and those that allow gay marriage, as you can see from the comparison below:
Notably, Nebraska explicitly accommodates transgender athletes but constitutionally prohibits any form of gay marriage or legal partnership. How did an LGBT-unfriendly state come to have such a trans-friendly policy?
This policy was instituted by the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA), whose executive director, Rhonda Blanford-Green, had previously worked in Colorado. Colorado has had a trans-inclusive policy for five years or so, and Blanford-Green decided to try one in her new state. Her proposal passed the NSAA board unanimously this winter. There was no press release, and, as this was a school policy and not a state law, little public attention was given to the decision, Blanford-Green told us. This might also have something to do with the fact that the policy was extremely proactive—as of yet no Nebraska student-athletes have invoked it. Also, Nebraska's anti-gay marriage amendement is 13 years old. The needle may have moved a little bit in the Cornhusker State. [Update 11/13/2013: We've been informed that the NSAA did not bring the trans athlete proposal to a vote last winter, as had been previously stated. The policy is now going through the organization's legislative process.]
The NCAA also gives transgender athletes their choice of sport, but requires biologically male players to undergo one year of hormone therapy before competing in women's sports. No such requirement exists at the high school level, leading some to voice concerns thatmale athletes may enter and dominate female sports, Juwanna Mann-like, perhaps by lying about their gender identity.
This is dumb for a couple reasons: At least in California, most of the smattering of athletes who have invoked the policy have been biological females looking to play male sports. No one seems concerned about this.
But there's also the pretty obvious fact that it's not exactly fun to be transgender in high school. Playing the sport of your choosing is about participating in the school community in a way that represents who you really are, not about having the chance to dunk on a bunch of girls. As Blanford-Green put it to the Times: "Do you know the stigma and psychological trauma most of these kids probably go through just to come out? No kid is going to put himself in that situation as a joke.”