College Athletes Ask the N.C.A.A. to Protest Bills That Would Bar Transgender Competitors

More than 500 student athletes have signed a letter to the N.C.A.A., pressing the organization’s leaders to stop holding championship events in states considering bills that would bar transgender athletes — mainly women — from competing in sports divisions that match their gender identity.

“You have been silent in the face of hateful legislation in states that are slated to host championships, even though those states are close to passing anti-transgender legislation,” said the letter, which was sent Wednesday and signed by 545 athletes from at least 80 universities.

The N.C.A.A., which moved championships away from North Carolina in 2016 when the state was considering a bill to prevent some transgender people from using the restroom that matched their gender identity, said in a statement in January that it would “closely monitor” such bills related to sports participation. A spokeswoman for the organization reiterated that position in an email on Wednesday without elaborating. The release of the letter was first reported by Sports Illustrated.

Two women on the track and field team at Washington University in St. Louis — Aliya Schenck and Alana Bojar — drafted the letter with help from two L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy groups.

“Queer athletes and trans athletes already have to deal with so much,” Schenck said in phone interview on Wednesday. “And then to be put in a situation where they’re trying to enjoy maybe the one thing that they can really just express themselves through — their sport — and just go to practice and forget about everything else they’re dealing with, and suddenly that is also taken away from them.”

The N.C.A.A. changed its process for selecting championship hosts in 2016, requiring a bidder to “provide a statement certifying its ability to deliver and maintain an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination and respects the dignity of all persons.”

Under N.C.A.A. guidelines, transgender athletes are permitted to compete for college teams with some restrictions.

In 25 states this year, bills have been introduced that would bar transgender athletes, primarily women, from playing sports under their gender identity at various levels of competition.

Here is what we know about the many bills:

The bills generally contend that women’s sports are threatened.

Supporters of these bills often claim that women’s sports could someday be dominated by transgender women because of the gains in strength typically conferred by male hormones during puberty.

But there have been few transgender athletes at the elite levels of sport, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“If the A.C.L.U. gets its way, women’s sports will no longer exist,” said Roger Brooks, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is challenging a law in Connecticut that allows transgender girls to compete on girls’ teams. “There’ll be men’s sports and there’ll be semi-coed sports, and women and girls in Connecticut will be losers.”

While there is minimal scientific research on transgender athletes, some evidence suggests that transgender women may have muscle-mass advantages even after suppressing testosterone for a year, if they went through puberty before starting hormone therapy.

Lawmakers in 25 states have introduced measures this year.

As of Tuesday, 25 states have had bills introduced during this year’s legislative sessions, according to the A.C.L.U.

“This is definitely the most extensive attack on trans youth and people I’ve ever seen,” Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice at the A.C.L.U, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Some of those bills did not go anywhere. But some will probably be signed into law. Legislatures in Mississippi and South Dakota have passed bills, and the governors in both states have said they intend to sign the measures.

“I will sign our bill to protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities,” said Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, a Republican.

In Tennessee, Alabama and Montana, bills have passed one chamber and await a decision in the other. In Arkansas and Missouri, lawmakers are considering bills and also constitutional amendments that would put the issue to a statewide vote in 2022.

Most of the legislation would require public schools to base participation in interscholastic or intramural teams on the sex an athlete was assigned at birth. Most of those bills would also require any athlete whose gender was questioned to undergo a physical or to provide certain medical information, such as the results of hormone tests or evidence of operations, to certify ability to compete.

Federal legislation has also been introduced.

Representative Greg Steube of Florida, a Republican, in January introduced the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2021, which would designate sex as “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth” and make it illegal for operators of sports programs that receive federal funds “to permit a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.” A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last month by Mike Lee of Utah, a Republican.

The bills were sent to committees for review. In previous sessions, bills with similar aims have not advanced.

President Biden signed an executive order in January that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, affirming a Supreme Court ruling from last year that said workplaces could not fire people for being gay or transgender.

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” the order read.

Court cases are pending.

Last year, Idaho became the first state to pass a law preventing transgender women from participating in women’s sports. A federal judge temporarily halted that ban in August, and it is not being enforced while the case is pending.

Conversely, 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow athletes in high school or younger to compete on teams that match their gender identity, according to Chris Mosier, the founder of, which tracks policies related to transgender athletes in the United States.

Connecticut, one of those 16 states, has been sued by three athletes who say that allowing transgender girls to compete in women’s sports violates Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational organizations that receive federal funding. Title IX helped usher in many sports opportunities for women across the country.

Under former President Donald J. Trump, the United States Department of Education said that Connecticut’s high school policy violated Title IX. The Biden administration withdrew that decision last month. The A.C.L.U. is urging that the suit be dropped, and a judge in Connecticut is expected to rule in the coming weeks.

How many transgender athletes are there in the United States?

There is no service that tracks the number of transgender athletes nationally. Though it is difficult to determine the number of transgender people in the U.S., a Gallup survey released last month estimated that about 0.6 percent of the country’s adults identified as transgender.

Joanna Harper, a researcher based in Loughborough University in Britain, studies the effects of hormone therapy on transgender athletes, and she estimated in an interview last summer that out of 200,000 women in college sports at a given time, about 50 are transgender.

The Associated Press reported last week that it had contacted two dozen legislators who had sponsored bills that would limit participation of transgender athletes on teams that match their gender identity. Most of those lawmakers, the news agency said, “cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.”

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