Title IX Ensures Inclusion for Transgender Youth In School and on the Field

All students deserve an equal education and to participate fully in school life. This includes the opportunity to play on school sports teams. Not only are sports beneficial for young people’s physical and mental health, but they also provide the opportunity to develop crucial skills like cooperation, leadership, confidence, and self-respect.

For the vast majority of youth, including transgender youth, school sports are about playing on a team with their friends, experiencing a sense of belonging and sportsmanship, and building confidence that comes from developing their game.

Through a soccer net, kids in team uniforms play soccer on a bright field
Photo by Alyssa Ledesma

Young people shouldn’t have to fight for their right to be included. But transgender youth like Sarah Huckman from New Hampshire, who loves to ski and run track, and Lane Joslin, a high schooler from Maine who loves to play soccer, have had to testify repeatedly against school sports bans in their states. They are making a difference for all transgender youth, and we’re honored to help them along the way.

Sarah Huckman
Sarah Huckman
Lane Joslin
Lane Joslin

While we’ve fortunately been able to stop bans on transgender youth participation in school sports in New Hampshire and Maine, sports bans have passed in 21 states across the country, and state legislatures have introduced at least 71 bills that target transgender athletes this session. The U.S. House also voted to pass a federal ban, HR734. While we expect it will fail in the Senate, the fact that such a discriminatory bill made it to Congress is alarming.

Anti-transgender sports bans harm transgender students, counter important efforts to create supportive school environments, and send a terrible message to all students. They also violate federal civil rights law.

In April of this year, the Department of Education issued a draft rule affirming that Title IX of the Civil Rights Act — our federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education — requires the inclusion of transgender students in school sports.

The rule specifically:

  • Prohibits policies restricting the ability of transgender students to participate in school sports in elementary and middle school and would permit such policies in high school only in rare circumstances and at highly competitive levels.
  • Prohibits categorical bans of transgender athletes at any level, including colleges and universities.
  • Presumes that any restriction on transgender students is invalid and puts a high burden on the government or school proposing the restriction to justify any exception based on specific, demonstrable, and essential educational objectives. Under the rule, the following justifications could not be used as reasons to exclude transgender students: anti-transgender bias, stereotypes, or unsupported assertions that transgender women and girls have a competitive advantage over non-transgender women and girls.

The 30-day public comment period on this proposed rule has ended, and we anticipate the Department of Education to issue the final rule by the fall. In anticipation of its release, you can read our comment and a fact sheet on the proposed rule on our website.

Many of the state laws barring transgender girls from playing on girls’ teams are already being challenged in court as violations of Title IX, and this rule strengthens those challenges. It also provides clear affirmation and guidance to states and schools that have maintained inclusive policies and will hopefully help stop further bans from being adopted. But we know it won’t make these harmful laws disappear overnight.

Our work must continue to ensure that transgender youth — and all LGBTQ+ youth — are included and can thrive in all areas of life. That’s what young people deserve, and it’s what GLAD has fought for, for decades.

Excluding one group of people because they are different sets a bad example that has no place in our schools. An educational environment is at its best when kids learn to embrace difference and create unity across identities. In an ever-diversifying country, learning how to be part of a team with different types of people is an essential life skill. We’ll keep using all the tools we have in the courts and beyond to build a system that prioritizes the well-being of all young people.

This story was originally published in the Summer 2023 GLAD Briefs newsletter. Read more.