On CNN, Katie Barnes discusses the NAIA's policy banning trans women from athletic competition

Barnes: “The idea, I think, that transgender women have an advantage in all sports at all times regardless of any kind of medical transition, I don't think that the scientific literature supports that at this time”

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Citation From the April 9, 2024, edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper

JAKE TAPPER (HOST): For our sports lead, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which represents 241 smaller colleges and universities, they just approved a new policy banning transgender women from participating in most of its sports programs. The policy which will go into effect in August says, quote, only NAIA — and that's the organization — only NAIA student athletes whose biological sex is female may participate in NAIA-sponsored female sports. Now, NAIA defines biological sex, the term they use, as having, quote, distinguishing characteristics and can be supported by birth certificate or signed affidavit, unquote. NAIA member colleges and universities have more than 83,000 student athletes among them. Joining us now to discuss is journalist and author of Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debate, Katie Barnes. Katie, thank you for joining us. What do you make of the NAIA new transgender participation policy? 

KATIE BARNES (JOURNALIST): Well I think it is reflective of the times that we are in, in terms of for the last three or four years, we have seen most policy updates when it comes to transgender athletes, be reflective of restriction and in favor of more restrictive policy. And this seems to fall right in line with that. 

TAPPER: There is a narrative that transgender female athletes have an advantage, that they always win, that the reason that men and women generally compete in separate gender categories is because it's not particularly competitive for men to compete against women. Do studies support that?  

BARNES: Well, I think it depends on what you mean by support that. For my reporting, and having really reported this out for many years, the reality is that from a scientific perspective, we know that there are differences in sexes and we know that the differences do tend to lead to athletic performance differences as well. However, when we look at broad-based restriction at all levels of sport, it's very challenging to say that scientifically that is supported in all cases —  meaning that something that might be appropriate for swimming, does not necessarily apply to basketball, when it comes to individual sports versus team sports, as well as level of competition. The idea, I think, that transgender women have an advantage in all sports at all times regardless of any kind of medical transition, I don't think that the scientific literature supports that at this time. 

TAPPER: Would there be a way to come up with a rule that was more individual specific or sport-specific that might not be… I mean, it sounds as though you're suggesting — and if I'm putting words in your mouth, I apologize —  it sounds like you're suggesting this policy is not necessarily fair, given how blanket it is. Is there a way to do something like this that would be more fair and more reflective of what is factually known about gender differences and different sports, et cetera. 

BARNES: I don't know if it's… I don't know if it's right for me to say whether or not this particular policy is fair. I think that right now where we are as a society is really grappling with what does fair and appropriate policy look like and, in general, most athletic organizations and many states across the country are embracing a blanket restriction. And I think there are a lot of people raising questions about whether or not that is fair and appropriate policy in all cases. I do think that the jury is out on that, especially because when you look at the NAIA there isn't necessarily a track record of transgender women competing in women's sports and dominating. It doesn't really seem like there is a particular problem, quote unquote, to be solved in this case, And so, in general, the real question is going to be what policy can withstand being tested and be accepted when a transgender woman does compete and win, and it seems like right now the answer to that question is looking to remove any possibility of a transgender woman being able to participate and compete in women's sports at a variety of levels and, in this case, including collegiately. 

TAPPER: Do we have any idea what the numbers are of transgender athletes that are participating in college or university athletics or even junior high or high school athletics? I mean, the amount of coverage and attention it gets is significant and I don't know how many people we're even talking about necessarily.  

BARNES: We're talking about a very small number of people. I think that's really important to acknowledge, especially now that 24 states have passed restrictive policies — have passed restrictive legislation, excuse me —  that affects K-12 and often college sports. And so in about half the country, a transgender girls and women don't have access to girls and women sports at this time anyway. And in those states where you still have transgender girls and women eligible to participate in girls and women's sports, the numbers that are doing so are not necessarily known, it's not a dataset that is readily available, but from the reporting that I've done over the years the accepted number, so to speak, is very small and very few. Oftentimes in states where this has been debated and a number of athletes have come forward who are younger, who are talking about their experiences, we're talking about single-digits in each state. And in the collegiate ranks, even though the NCAA, for example, supports sports that have about half a million athletes across 24 sports at all three divisions, you're still looking at a very small number. Probably — we don't know that specifically — but I've been told from sources that its well under 100 that are actively using the NCAA's policy. And in the NAIA, we don't really know how many known athletes there are, but it also is very small. And so we're not talking about thousands of athletes or tens of thousands of athletes. We're oftentimes talking about hundreds, maybe tens.

TAPPER: Katie Barnes, thanks so much. Really appreciate your time.