The End of Transgender Segregation in Sports?

Last year, I wrote about Coy Mathis and other transgender students using the restrooms of the sex they identified with, rather than the sex they were born with. California decided to follow up on the case by passing the School Success and Opportunity Act, or AB 1266. The law, passed in August 2013, allows transgender students in public schools grades K-12 to use any bathroom and locker room the student identifies with, and to participate in any sex-segregated school programs, including athletic teams.

transgender sports AB 1266So far, the controversy over AB 1266 has focused on the parents’ concerns that boys will take advantage of the law by entering girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms. If this occurs, then parents and teachers fear that boys will sexually molest girls or violate girls’ privacy by taking pictures.

Oddly, the other portion of AB 1266 hasn’t received much attention. AB 1266 could erase sex segregation in sports. If a transgender girl wants to play varsity football, AB 1266 could compel the school to include the transgender on the team. The transgender student would have to use the same locker room as the rest of the team, but desegregation of the sexes would be a side effect of AB 1266. The bathroom implications of AB 1266 are unclear, but the state law has already admitted one student, Pat Cordova-Goff, into the Azusa High School girl’s softball team.

Pat might say that she is actually a girl and therefore the team is still all girls. However, the rest of the community might still perceive Pat as a boy even if she believes she is a girl. The team and the coach might see a boy. Parents and neighbors might also see a boy. Opposing teams might worry about fairness if Azusa has a boy on their team.

The potential debate sparked by Pat Cordova-Goff could play out on a national level and in more professional sports. Chloie Jonsson, a transgender athlete, is suing CrossFit for its refusal to allow her to compete in a female fitness competition. CrossFit alleges that being a biological man would give Jonsson an advantage while Jonsson asserts that any advantage would be from physical fitness, not masculine strength.

Given the backlash against Jonsson and AB 1266, transgender rights might be the limit of what the LGBT can achieve. Transgenders, whether they are students or athletes, will be hard pressed to convince the public not to believe what their eyes see. Transgenders must focus on social assumptions about sex and gender before making any sweeping policy changes. Transgenders can win the legal battle, but if they push too hard too fast they could lose the political war.

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