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NCAA Considers Transgender Policy

December 15, 2010

A working group of the National Collegiate Athletic Association has proposed an interpretation of existing policies to create paths for transgender athletes to compete on teams. This is the first time that the NCAA, in any capacity, has offered advice on this issue.

The interpretation endorsed by the NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports is nearly identical to a set of recommendations issued in a report earlier this year by the National Center on Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation. The NCAA’s national office staff are “reviewing the interpretation to determine if it sufficiently addresses the issue or if there is a need for further legislation.” If any legislation is needed, then it would be considered by the NCAA’s membership during its upcoming 2011-12 legislative cycle.

Under the proposed interpretation, a male athlete transitioning to female would be permitted to play on a women’s team if "that athlete has undergone testosterone suppression treatment for at least one year.” The member institution would have to provide the NCAA with “written documentation of testosterone suppression for the year of treatment” and “documentation of ongoing monitoring” to be eligible to play on a women’s team.

In the instance of a female athlete transitioning to male, the athlete would be permitted to play on a men’s team at any time. If the athlete wants hormone treatment, however, then the athlete “must get a medical exception for the use of testosterone before being eligible to participate in intercollegiate athletics” because the substance is on the NCAA’s banned drug list.

Athletes who transition socially, but do not seek hormone treatment, also have the option to compete for their “birth-gender team.”

NCAA officials did not return requests for comment about the proposed interpretation. The announcement was posted on the NCAA's website Tuesday, but was removed, and an NCAA official said it had been placed there before it was scheduled to be released. The article said that the association “acknowledged the need to clarify existing guidance, which recommends a student-athlete compete in the gender recognized on his or her state documentation, such as a driver’s license.”

Last month, Kye Allums, a George Washington University junior and player on its women’s basketball team, publicly came out as a transgender man. Allums is believed by many to be the first openly transgender person to play Division I college basketball, though not the first to play on an intercollegiate team.

Transgender advocates believe Allums’s coming out spurred the need for a formal clarification from the NCAA as to how these athletes should be treated. Some experts, however, have been urging action on the issue for years.

“Kye put a face on this,” said Helen J. Carroll, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ sports project. “It’s not just another issue now.

“I’m very encouraged that the NCAA is moving forward in a positive way including transgendered student-athletes in a way that’s practical and works. It’s a very exciting time for the entire transgendered community.”

Carroll added that this move by the NCAA may make it easier for transgender athletes to publicly come out about their status now that they know how they can maintain their eligibility to play sports.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation and professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, echoed Carroll’s praise. Given the NCAA’s work with her organization, she noted that she was not surprised by the association’s move.

“This is very consistent with all of the other things that they’ve done recently,” Hogshead-Makar said. “This is not inconsistent with work the NCAA has done on drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, pregnant athletes, etc. This is consistent with making sure that the most number of people can share in the educational experience called sports. It’s about breaking down barriers.”

 

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