Experts: NCAA risks students' safety by allowing events in states with trans sports bans

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Officials say states will be required to affirm their commitment to NCAA nondiscrimination policies in order to host championships, even if those states have passed anti-trans sports bans.

The NCAA announced on Tuesday that it would allow championship series to be held in states to which they were originally awarded, regardless of whether that state had recently enacted a transgender sports ban.

"Given the Association's foundational values of inclusion and fair competition, the NCAA intends to conduct its championships as they were awarded but will require all hosts to reaffirm their commitment to ensure a nondiscriminatory and safe environment for all college athletes per their host agreement," NCAA officials said in a statement. "Any host who cannot commit to the nondiscrimination policy should contact the NCAA immediately. Future championship hosts also must commit to the nondiscrimination policy, as they have in the past."

But LGBTQ rights groups say that they're not sure how the NCAA expects to ensure the safety and wellbeing of collegiate transgender athletes in states that have passed discriminatory laws, regardless of those commitments.

Nine states so far have enacted transgender sports bans or issued executive orders accomplishing the same thing, including Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Idaho, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Courts have blocked two states, West Virginia and Idaho, from letting their respective laws go into effect.

All but the Idaho law were enacted this year. Many of those states, including Florida, Montana, and Mississippi, don't allow transgender athletes to play on the team of their gender at both the collegiate level and the K-12 level.

Athlete Ally, an organization that says its goal is to "end the rampant homophobia and transphobia in sport," said the NCAA can't possibly hope to meet its goals of inclusion in states with these bans.

"NCAA policy states that NCAA events in all divisions must provide environments that are safe, healthy, and free of discrimination," the group said in a statement on Wednesday. "Selecting states that have legislated discrimination against transgender student-athletes makes it impossible for the NCAA to implement their above policy."

The organization added, "We continue to call on the NCAA to reverse this decision and support the right of all student-athletes — including transgender student-athletes — to be safe, healthy and free of discrimination while participating in NCAA events.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said that although Tuesday's statement affirmed the NCAA's anti-discrimination policy, the decision to continue to hold championships in states with anti-trans laws was "disappointing."

"If these states are allowed to enforce these bans, it will bar transgender children and young people from playing sports, and no transgender athletes will have an opportunity to qualify for NCAA play in the first place," he said. "In short, this new statement imposes significant but limited accountability, and those who care about this issue should continue to push the NCAA to enforce its policy in a more consistent and meaningful way."

The Human Rights Campaign also called out the NCAA, saying the organization was violating its own policies by holding championships in states with such sports bans.

The NCAA has pushed back against discriminatory policies before.

In 2016, it refused to hold championship events in North Carolina after the state passed H.B. 2, a bill that forced transgender people to use bathrooms according to the gender listed on their birth certificate and blocked local nondiscrimination ordinances. NCAA officials lifted the ban in 2017 after the bill was partially repealed.

However, the compromise bill that replaced H.B. 2 — H.B. 142 — repealed the bathroom requirement but kept cities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020. Some LGBTQ groups opposed the NCAA's decision at the time.

On Wednesday, Chris Mosier, a transgender athlete and activist, spoke out about the most recent NCAA announcement on Twitter, citing his past experience in North Carolina. Mosier said that when he competed in a race in the state after H.B. 2 became law, he was left feeling unsafe and unprotected.

"The race organizers did a good job of using inclusive language but I still had to stay in a hotel, get gas, eat & navigate the town," he wrote. "I was on edge. It did not feel safe in that state because lawmakers gave citizens a green light to police me in my expression & identity."

"The way lawmakers speak about trans people influences the way people at large treat us," he added.

Mosier also questioned how the NCAA policy would work in practice.

"What @ncaa school is going to risk legal outcomes by allowing trans athletes to compete if that is a violation of state law?" he wrote. "The NCAA is not protecting or supporting their trans student athletes."

"The NCAA cannot respect the humanity of transgender athletes when you allow championships to happen in states that discriminate against them. Period. End of story," he added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.