Conservative media are criticizing the Minnesota State High School League for adopting a policy that will allow transgender student athletes to play on the sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, warning that the policy will cause gender confusion, inappropriate behavior in locker rooms, and unfairness for female athletes. But officials from athletic leagues across the country haven't reported problems since enacting similar trans-inclusive policies.
On December 4, the Minnesota State High School League voted overwhelmingly to adopt a policy that would allow transgender students to participate on the athletic teams that correspond to their gender identity.
The policy was approved despite a right-wing misinformation campaign which tried to derail the measure by stoking fears about female locker rooms and student privacy. That campaign was led by the extreme Minnesota Child Protection League, which produced ads warning that trans-inclusive athletic teams would cause the “END OF GIRLS' SPORTS” and allow boys to take showers with girls. Those talking points were echoed by conservative media outlets including Fox News, Townhall, and WorldNetDaily. An unhinged article in The Federalist warned that the policy would be “psychologically destabilizing” and “encourage children to reject their bodies.” The policy's adoption has only fanned the flames of conservative media outrage.
But Minnesota is hardly the first state to allow transgender student athletes to play on the teams they feel comfortable with. School athletic leagues across the country have had similar policies for transgender students in place for years without experiencing the problems predicted by conservative activists.
The District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) has for several years explicitly allowed transgender athletes to participate on the teams that correspond with their gender identity. In an interview with Media Matters, DCSAA Executive Director Clark Ray stated that his organization hasn't experienced difficulties implementing its trans-inclusive policy:
We haven't had an issue in the three years that we've had the policy in place ... It was all about creating fairness and a safe environment for our athletes to participate.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has a similar policy, including a comprehensive application process for transgender athletes. FHSAA Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing told Media Matters that there have been no incidents or complaints as a result of accommodating transgender athletes:
Since [our policy's] inception, two years ago, we have had four 'applicants' for appeal consideration. Three of those withdrew their appeal in the process of completing the requirements for documentation and medical information. One went through the entire process and was approved. The transgender female plays tennis for her school's team. There have been no incidence or complaints from any student's at her school or the schools with which her school competes.
Ray and Dearing's responses matched the responses from other state athletic leagues contacted by Media Matters. Though transgender students have been welcomed for years in states like Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Washington State, none reported experiencing problems or backlash as a result of their policies.
Dick Baker, Assistant Director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association:
As of today, we (MIAA) have not encountered any problems with implementing our policy.
James Weaver, Assistant Executive Director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association:
At this time we have not had any of our member schools use the policy, however we have also not had any negative feedback from our schools or communities about this policy.
Mike Colbrese, Executive Director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association:
We have not heard of anyone or any school experiencing any of those issues in Washington.
This gap between reality and conservative fear-stoking should come as no surprise. The campaign against Minnesota's new athletic policy relies on the same debunked mythsabout confused children and bathroom sexual predators that conservative media outlets revive any time an effort is made to protect the transgender community. In California, for example, conservative media were outraged at the prospect of a statewide law banning transphobic discrimination in public schools, ignoring that major school districts had already adopted such measures for years without incident.
Following the approval of Minnesota's new athletic policy, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) criticized the policy's opponents for "hate mongering" and peddling misinformation about the measure, calling their arguments “far-fetched, absurd,” and “not even hypothetical.”
DCSAA's Ray was more sympathetic to critics of trans-inclusive athletic policies, but insisted that the policies were geared at protecting all students.
“I certainly understand the fear of the unknown, but for us, and for me, it's all about ensuring there's an equitable system to protect our student athletes.”