US: How Should High Schools Define Sexes for Transgender Athletes?

The calls to high school sports officials from athletic directors and administrators began several years ago and have only become more frequent and difficult: How are you handling transgender students who want to play sports?

With widespread disagreement over where the line should be drawn between sexes for purposes of athletic competition, the question has challenged the people who set rules for Olympics sports and those who govern college sports in the United States. At the high school level, the issue has been even more vexing.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone has it exactly right because if they did, everyone else would just do that,” said Jamey Harrison, deputy director of the governing body of high school sports in Texas. “If you look at what the N.C.A.A. is doing and what the Olympics committee is doing — and those are different because they’re largely dealing with adults, versus we are working with minors — it doesn’t seem like anybody has landed on something that is universally applicable.”

The issue has touched off debate among coaches, athletes, parents, doctors and medical ethicists. Established guidelines at the youth level that address things like hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery are nonexistent.

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Harrison said the issue first emerged in Texas in 2012, when the state governing body — the University Interscholastic League — had rules that required female athletes to compete on girls’ teams and males on boys’ teams, but no rule that addressed how to decide someone’s sex.

Transgender students — those who identify as a different gender than their biological sex — did not fit into an existing category.

“We had more and more schools who said, ‘We have a student who is transitioning or transitioned,’” Harrison said in a phone interview. “I think without question, it has become much more of a common issue than it had previously been. There are strong feelings on all sides and people are very passionate about their stance. It has been a challenge.”

With no national governing body laying down rules, individual states have navigated the issue independently, weighing the shifting beliefs of schools, parents and athletes. Read more via New York Times