Setting the Bar: Transgender Inclusion in College Sports

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shanewindmeyerRenee Richards, Lana Lawless, Mianne Bagger, Fallon Fox, Michelle Dumaresq, and Caitlyn Jenner. These are a few of the names of transgender athletes from the world of professional sports; some you may know, and others you may be hearing about for the first time. Either way, there is still a great deal of work to be done to achieve inclusion and awareness for transgender athletes.

The same is true at the college sports level, where there is often less visibility and fewer protections. Transgender student-athletes on campus face intense scrutiny, fear, harassment, and discrimination in sports — whether participating in collegiate recreation or intercollegiate athletics.

Many of the challenges faced by trans athletes are due to a lack of education and understanding; however, campus administrators have been reticent and slow to respond in most cases. Often, such advocacy and work to improve campus climate are addressed only after a transgender student has been harassed or has experienced a life-threatening altercation.

Due to issues around confidentiality and disclosure, transgender victims are afraid to report harassment that occurs on campus. Campus Pride’s 2010 national study shows that nearly a quarter of LGB students, faculty, and staff face harassment on campus compared with 39 percent of transgender students, faculty, and staff. In addition, more than a third of transgender respondents feared for their physical safety on campus. These percentages were worse for LGBT people of color.

For the last six years, Campus Pride has initiated a series of educational efforts within college sports for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) athletes, particularly for those who are transgender, as it relates to improving sports and recreational facilities. Much of the advocacy has been heightening awareness and visibility of transgender athletes on campus through education and resources.

The Campus Pride 2012 LGBTQ National College Athlete Report offers specific recommendations for trans inclusion within sports and research. According to the Campus Pride Trans Policy Clearinghouse, currently 16 college campuses have trans-inclusive intramural sports and athletic policies, and this number has risen in the last few years.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education declared that transgender students are protected under Title IX. The guidance, issued by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), pertained to sexual assault and stated that Title IX prohibitions against sex discrimination include discrimination against students because they are transgender. The guidance reads: “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity, and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”

As a result of the Title IX announcement by the Education Department, more campuses are talking about compliance as it relates to transgender athletes’ safety, sports facilities, and general campus protections.

Both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) have issued guidelines for transgender sports participation.

The NCAA guidelines were released in 2011 and advocate for broader inclusion of transgender athletes while limiting how they define transgender participation. Transgender women may compete on a women’s team after they have been taking testosterone suppression medication for one year. The guidelines do not allow a transgender man who is in the process of transitioning the ability to compete on a women’s team once he begins treatment with testosterone. A transgender man may also receive a medical exception for exogenous testosterone and thus be eligible to participate on men’s and coed teams.

On the other hand, NIRSA issued much broader guidelines for participation and inclusion of transgender athletes in intramural and collegiate recreation sports on campus two years ago. Under the policy, individuals who identify as a woman are eligible to play on women’s and co-rec teams; individuals who identify as a man are eligible to play on men’s and co-rec teams. Transgender participants are eligible to play based on their expressed gender identity so long as they comply with all player eligibility guidelines.

Both the NCAA and NIRSA provide best practices for transgender sports inclusion on campuses. As part of a coalition effort, both organizations helped develop the Campus Pride Sports Index online at This index provides the only national benchmarking tool for LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs, and practices in sports and encourages sports officials to improve annually. The sports index also breaks down trans-inclusive efforts to show progress specifically for transgender athletes.

Setting the bar for transgender inclusion on your campus starts with finding out what your campus is currently doing. The following comes from the Campus Pride Sports Index and highlights questions related to transgender-inclusive policies, programs, and practices.

Does your athletic or collegiate recreation department/program have:

● A departmental nondiscrimination statement inclusive of gender identity and expression?

● Written policies and procedures that address anti-LGBTQ behavior for student-athletes, coaches, and spectators?

● Written policies and procedures that enable transgender students to participate in sports that are consistent with their gender identity?

● An LGBTQ and/or ally organization for student-athletes that is visible, active, and supported by the department/program?

● Transgender-inclusive training for coaches and staff to respect and include people of different gender identities and expressions?

● Private changing spaces and showers (to accommodate transgender and other individuals) in the men’s and women’s locker rooms?

● Gender-inclusive bathroom facilities (i.e., the bathroom is private and lockable and provides access to a shower, toilet, and locker facilities available to anyone regardless of gender)?

● A sportsmanship pledge that is LGBTQ-inclusive and is actively shared and promoted through activities and events?

● A written policy requiring dress codes and team uniforms to be gender neutral?

Remember, things don’t just get better; we have to do better. Educate yourself, and equip your campus with the necessary knowledge and skills. Don’t leave the advocacy and work of creating a welcoming, inclusive sports program to the transgender athletes.●

Shane Windmeyer is the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. Campus Pride is a partner of INSIGHT Into Diversity