On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, protect trans kids
Hi, friends. So, today is an absolutely excruciating day. As I’m sure you know, the Supreme Court has officially overturned Roe v. Wade. It’s not unexpected, but it turns out, that bracing for impact doesn’t actually soften the blow.
I had a quick newsletter about transgender rights and Title IX almost ready to be published when the news broke, and after spending the last few hours crying, staring into space, starting a different newsletter solely about the importance of abortion to women’s sports, and forcing my dog to cuddle with me, I’m going to publish the previously-planned newsletter, because it’s a damn important topic, and because all of these fights are interconnected. The fight to ban trans people from sports, the fight to ban abortions, these things aren’t truly about health or safety or women’s sports or the preciousness of life, they’re ALL about power and control and the suppression of bodily autonomy.
Take care of yourselves. Be sure to donate to abortion funds today, and make those donations recurring.
Also, I live in North Carolina, which, as of right now, still offers legal abortions. A lot of southern states around me do not. If you need an abortion and can’t get one where you are, I have space to host you and will find money to help you, no questions asked. Please reach out.
On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the Biden admininistration failed to codify protections for trans youth to play sports
If you’ve followed me for a while, you might have noticed I’m not big on linking newsletters to specific celebratory months or dates. I’m not exactly sure why. (Though, if I had to guess, it might have to do with my general aversion to birthdays/anniversaries, my innate problem with planning ahead and meeting deadlines, and a general icky feeling I get about the performative nature of a lot of commemorative content.)
But I’m making an exception in this case. Yesterday was officially the 50th anniversary of the signing of Title IX. To celebrate, the Department of Education (DOE) released much-awaited proposals to update Title IX regulations. Some of the proposals are about rolling back provisions implemented by the Trump administration that were harmful to survivors, which is a good thing. Other proposed changes will sure up LGBTQ protections, which we also like. (I highly recommend reading this ESPN article for more details.)
But there is one glaring, infuriating omission: The federal government did not propose rules that would guarantee the rights of transgender students to have equal access to sports under Title IX.
Instead, the DOE kicked the crucial decision down the road.
“The Department will engage in a separate rulemaking to address Title IX’s application to the context of athletics, and, in particular, what criteria recipients may be permitted to use to establish students’ eligibility to participate on a particular male or female athletic team,” the report says.
According to Paula Lavigne at ESPN, a senior education department official told reporters on Thursday, "we know that these issues are urgent and very important to address."
Why, then, are they lacking urgency and failing to unequivocally protect trans kids? Well, I think there’s a pretty clear answer.
The pushback from anti-trans groups is working
One of the very first things that Biden did when he took office — like, literally on day one — was issue an executive order stating that sex discrimination should also include discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Among other things, the order provided guidance that transgender children be allowed to use the locker rooms and bathrooms of their gender identity, and participate in the sport of their gender identity.
This caused complete upheaval in the right-wing ecosystem, and among TERFs everywhere, and fostered a slew of op-eds issued declaring Biden was ending women’s sports forever.
Amidst this chaos, some powerful and well-connected people in the women’s sports community decided that all of their energy should be devoted to banning trans women and girls from playing women’s and girls’ sports. We’ve talked in detail before about one of the groups that formed around that time, the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group. The Women’s Sports Policy World Group is run some very influential individuals, including legendary tennis player Martina Navratilova; Olympic gold medalist swimmer and CEO of Champion women, Nancy Hogshead-Makar; Olympic gold medalist swimmer and USOPC board member Donna De Varona; and president of The Drake Group, Donna Lopiano.
Last year, on National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the group issued an extensive briefing book titled, “A Request to Congress and the Administration to Preserve Girls’ and Women’s Sport & Accommodate Transgender Athletes.” I was on their very first media call, and wrote a newsletter breaking down their disturbing plan.
I was subsequently blocked by multiple members of the group on social media, which is to be expected. But last month, I received an email invitation to a Clearinghouse on Women's Issues meeting, which was to be hosted by Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano. I registered, under my real name and email, and attended.
I’m going to save a more thorough breakdown of their presentation for future newsletters, but there was specifically a call to action to lobby the Biden administration to exclude transgender children from Title IX protections. The fear-mongering was very direct: If transgender girls and women are allowed to compete in girls’ and women’s sports, girls’ and women’s sports will cease to exist. (This is, I need to state clearly, NONSENSE.)
One of the reasons I was so concerned about the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group is because I have seen Hogshead-Makar’s ability to lobby congress and make legislation happen; she was an integral part in getting a law enacted to protect sexual abuse survivors in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.
I don’t want to give her or her working group too much credit, but since Biden prioritized protections for trans students under Title IX on his first day in office, and now is not, I think it’s clear the lobbying is working.
There is still time for the Biden administration to do the right thing
On Thursday, Anne Lieberman, the director of policy and programs at Athlete Ally, told ESPN that there is still time for the DOE to codify protections for trans students to play sports under Title IX.
"I want to trust and believe that the Department of Education will do absolutely everything in its power to uphold the promise of Title IX on the 50th anniversary and protect all students fully and equally,” Lieberman said.
“I also want to trust and believe that the administration knows the incredible damage, violence and harm that will be done to kids if they are not able to participate in sports with their friends."
But we can’t just sit back and hope the Biden administration does the right thing. In the next couple of weeks here at Power Plays, we will be publishing a newsletter highlighting concrete ways we can get involved as a community to make sure that transgender people are protected under Title IX.
Because the 50th anniversary of this landmark law is not the time to make it more restrictive; it’s the time to make it even more inclusive, powerful, and transformative than ever before.
“Sport is a privilege to which only a select number of young people have access,” said Dr. Anna Baeth, Athlete Ally’s Director of Research, in a statement to Power Plays this week.
“Historically, girls – and especially girls of color, girls in rural and urban communities in the United States, and transgender girls – have been marginalized in sport, if not excluded altogether. As we reflect on the last 50 years of Title IX, we must ask ourselves: Who has not yet had the opportunity to be included in and inspired by sport? And what would the world look like if they did? Creating access to safe and supportive sport spaces for young people of all identities - that would be a true celebration of Title IX.”
I tried to keep this newsletter very short — which you all know is hard for me — so I wanted to direct you to some more thorough reads/listens about the Title IX and transgender athletes:
“Title IX Built Women’s Sports. Now, It’s Time for it to Change.” by Frankie de la Cretaz at Mother Jones
In this piece, de la Cretaz dives into the history of Title IX, and looks at how originally, feminists wanted boys and girls to play on the same teams, and the “separate but equal” system eventually entrenched by Title IX was a legislative compromise. Today, however, they note that, “As it currently exists, Title IX is a barrier to full trans inclusion in sports.”
“Title IX @50: Who Gets to Play? Trans Youth in Sports” on the 6/24 edition of the ESPN Daily podcast
I haven’t watched the full “37 Words” documentary on Title IX that ESPN released this month yet, but Friday’s ESPN Daily podcast has a wonderful conversation between Alison Glock and filmmaker Clare Marash about transgender kids fighting for their rights to play. I highly recommend listening.
“Young transgender athletes caught in middle of states' debates” by Katie Barnes at ESPN
You should read every single thing that Katie Barnes writes, of course, and especially everything they write about transgender athletes. But if you only have time to read one, read this one, which centers the children who are caught in the middle of policy debates.
If you have time to read a second Katie Barnes piece today, which I hope you do, read their interview with Lia Thomas.
“Title IX’s Next Frontiers in the Fight for Gender Equality” at Sports Illustrated
This piece goes into detail on five important areas of the Title IX fight, all of which will be familiar to Power Plays readers. But Julie Kliegman hones in on Title IX’s application to transgender athletes at the bottom of the article, and gives a very succinct and comprehensive overview of the fight about “who holds the right to be a woman under Title IX.” This is a particularly great read for people who might be considering this issue for the first time. Read it, bookmark it, and direct people towards it going forward.