Within his first few hours in office, newly elected US president Joe Biden signed the Fairness in Women’s Sport Act that now allows transgender individuals who identify as women to compete against cisgender women in school and university sport. What some see as a triumph for transgender persons, others see as the death of female sports in the United States and, ultimately, the rest of the world.
The transgender debate has been a heated one for many years now with countless athletes feeling that their sports codes don’t represent them or allow for their inclusion. The controversy around the debate has been exploited by “Men identifying as Women” for short periods of time to exploit many sports codes’ regulations. In March of 2019, British rapper Nzube Olisaebuka Udezue, known professionally as Zuby, claimed to have broken the UK women’s deadlifting record as well as bench press record after identifying as a woman for a few hours. The then 31-year-old was using his very public image to criticise the flawed regulations surrounding transgender inclusion in sport. The rapper’s actions were condemned by many in both the transgender and sporting communities.
Dawn Ennis, editor of Outsports News, said, “Just deciding on a whim that Zuby says he’s identifying as a woman, that’s not how it works,”. Ennis said Zuby was trying to make a point, but noted that it’s an issue that affects “real people”. Zuby explained that he wanted to start a conversation around the subject, saying, “If a recreational lifter, such as myself, can set those kinds of records in the women’s division I think it should show people what the difference is and why that might be an idea people want to reconsider.”
In another instance, transgender MMA fighter, Fallon Fox, who fights in a women’s division cracked her opponent’s skull, leading to further debate and criticism of officials and what they accept as men and women, especially when looking at testosterone levels, which are higher in transgender athletes than in women, although less than in cisgender males.
While the National Center for Biotechnology Information proved that transgender athletes do not have an advantage over cisgender women, Dr. Antonia Lee, who possesses degrees in science and sports medicine, recently wrote, “Testosterone during growth, puberty and maturation results in quite remarkable differences between the sexes. Testosterone in males at puberty drives an increase in bone size and density; an increase in muscle size and strength; an increase in the tensile strength of ligaments and connective tissue; an increase in red blood cells… the list is extensive.”
ESPN reported that Biden’s “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation is intended to enable transgender women who have gone through male puberty to compete in women’s sports.” This means that transgender athletes who choose to identify as women after going through male puberty will notice a considerable advantage over their cisgender female counterparts. Between 2017 and 2019, two transgender high school athletes from Connecticut who identify as female, won fifteen championship titles and broke records that were previously held by nine different girls.
Since signing the Executive Order, many schools, universities, officials and sporting bodies have publicly criticised and revolted against the president’s orders. Ryan Fournier, the founder of a Republican student body was quoted speaking to USA Today, saying, “Women’s sports is a protected category. This ensures fair competition, which will only be diminished if schools are pushed to give biological men the right to participate in them. This executive order is a threat to decades of women’s achievement thanks to executive fiat.”
Another opponent to the new bill is Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who took to Facebook to write, “I am so disappointed over President Biden’s actions to force young girls … to compete with biological males for access to athletics.” Reeves was joined by a fellow Governor, Bill Lee of Tennessee who stated, “I do believe that transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports”. A group of women’s sports leaders, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova, several Olympic gold medalists and five former presidents of the Women’s Sports Foundation, are pleading with Congress and president Joe Biden himself to limit the participation of transgender girls and women who “have experienced all or part of male puberty (which is the scientific justification for separate sex sport),” while accommodating and honouring their sports participation in other ways. Options could include separate heats, additional events or divisions and/or the handicapping of results.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an attorney and one of the leaders of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, told USA Today, ““We fully support the Biden executive order, ending LGBT discrimination throughout society, including employment, banking, family law and public accommodations,” she then added, “Competitive sports, however, are akin to pregnancy and medical testing; these areas require a science-based approach to trans inclusion. Our aim has been on protecting the girls’ and women’s competitive categories, while crafting accommodations for trans athletes into sport wherever possible.”
In response to the backlash, including the trending hashtag #BidenErasedWomen, the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, publicly stated “I would just say that the President’s belief is that trans rights are human rights, and that’s why he signed that executive order,” adding, to place an emphasis on the current situation, “And in terms of the determinations by universities and colleges, I’d certainly defer to them.”
The Fairness in Women’s Sport Act and Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation have both been signed and look to be enforced across the United States, despite opposition. The orders are unlikely to be withdrawn and will no doubt prompt a great deal of further discussion and debate over its fairness to all parties.