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Rice athletics must integrate transgender student-athletes

Christina Tan/Thresher

By Madison Buzzard     4/17/19 12:06am

Title IX is the bedrock of anti-sex discrimination law in the U.S. It requires universities that receive federal funding to prove equality of opportunity for female student-athletes compared to male student-athletes. At Rice, the impact of Title IX is simple to see: We offer seven men’s sports teams and seven women’s sports teams and we provide a proportionate number of scholarships to female student-athletes in regard to our student body population. 

But Title IX is limited to the binary concept of gender. Sure, Title IX permits female athletes to try out for men’s sports teams, but what if a transgender student-athlete wants to participate on the team of their gender identity, specifically at Rice? According to the Rice student-athlete handbook, a transgender male student-athlete is allowed to participate on either a women’s or men’s sports team so long as he has foregone testosterone therapy. But if a transgender female student-athlete seeks to play on a women’s sports team, she must have undergone “one year of testosterone suppression treatment or one year of post-surgical intervention related to “diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Dysphoria and/or Transsexualism.” 

Before you become flippant at our university’s archaic application of the term “Gender Identity Disorder,” note that Rice derives its transgender student-athlete eligibility rules from the NCAA’s guidelines for transgender athlete inclusion, which uses the same terminology. However, since Rice’s athletic department is not legally required to abide by NCAA guidelines, choosing to exclude a term which was revoked from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition in 2013 should be common sense. Nonetheless, a larger issue is at stake here. 

We must permit all transgender female student-athletes to play on women’s sports teams. If Rice’s athletic department revises its student-athlete handbook policy to reflect this change, our university will better foster inclusion, participation and fairness for student-athletes.

No athlete has ever come out as transgender at Rice. In fact, the first NCAA Division I athlete to come out as transgender was Kye Allums in 2010. But in the fight to ameliorate social stigmatization of transgenderism, Rice should acknowledge a right of participation in sports in accordance with gender identity. 

By mandating transgender female athletes undergo testosterone suppression to play on women’s sports teams, our university is denying the uniqueness of sex and gender. In doing so, we unfairly burden transgender student-athletes to alter their biologies.

Once we acknowledge that transgender females are women, we can ignore the argument that permitting transgender female student-athletes to play on women’s sports teams hinders athletic opportunities for women.

Allowing transgender male student-athletes to play on men’s sports teams and transgender female student-athletes to play on women’s sports teams is not a harm to fairness in sport. Most commonly, detractors of transgender inclusion in sports will point to the inherent athletic advantage of transgender female athletes over their cisgender female counterparts. 

But consider that even on women’s sports teams, there is parity in talent and athleticism. There are even differences in testosterone levels among female athletes. We ought not assume transgender female student-athletes emanate unfairness in competition. 

Currently, our university does permit transgender athletes to use their preferred locker rooms, toilets and showers. Moreover, during away games, our athletic director will request for gender-neutral bathrooms or private facilities to be made available. We are already satisfying a fundamental step on the path to equality for transgender student-athletes.

More can be done, and as a student body, we should expect our athletic department to recant outdated and offensive terms. To achieve full integration of student-athletes, we should merely reassess our philosophies.

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Allums came out in 2010, not 2014.

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