Transgender athletes a complex issue

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, March 5, 2023 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

Makayla RYH 2023 March

By: Makayla Dilliner, Kalaheo High School, class of 2024.

On June 23, 1972, Hawaii’s very own Congresswoman Patsy Mink’s vision of ending gender- based discrimination in education and sports came to fruition. Title IX was signed into law, giving girls across America the equal opportunity to participate in federally funded athletic programs. But on the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, President Joe Biden sought to rewrite her legacy.

The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed amendment to Title IX “would make clear that preventing someone from participating in school programs and activities consistent with their gender identity would cause harm in violation of Title IX.” In short, the proposed amendment would expand the law in order to include transgender athletes under the category of “women.” While official changes to Title IX are yet to be made, the consequences of such a decision are already becoming apparent. Early in 2022, Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) took the world by storm by winning an NCAA swimming title in the 500-yard freestyle. Significantly, Thomas made headlines not merely for the victory but based on the fact that the swimmer was born a biological male. Even amid the controversy, UPenn nominated Thomas for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award. Many of Thomas’ teammates have pushed back against the swimmer, although most have chosen to do so anonymously in fear of backlash.

When questions over fairness and safety are raised, many who advocate for the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports opt for swift reprisal rather than honest dialogue. In September of last year, a Vermont high school banned its entire girls volleyball team from changing in their locker room after members of the team raised concerns over a transgender teammate changing in the same room.

Among other recent examples, a 29-year-old transgender woman, Rici Tres, beat out a 13-year-old girl in the women’s division of the Board Open Street Skateboarding contest held in New York City.

When questions over fairness and safety are raised, many who advocate for the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports opt for swift reprisal rather than honest dialogue.

— Makayla Dilliner

We have seen this same issue play out from the high school and collegiate levels, all the way to the Olympics and professional sports, such as mixed martial arts (MMA). Some have justified transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox’s participation in the women’s division by pointing to the athlete’s testicular removal, which allegedly makes testosterone levels low enough to fall within the “physical parameters of women.” Even if this were true, many other factors must be taken into account, in addition to hormone levels.

While proponents of trans-inclusive athletic policies downplay concerns, the physical changes that take place in a biological male’s body during puberty make it impossible for men and women to compete on a level playing field. Bone structure, bone density and muscle size enable Fox to hit and kick harder while absorbing less damage. The removal of any particular male anatomical feature will not change this.

As a result, some organizations such as World Aquatics (formerly known as FINA) have proposed a ban on transgender women who fail to transition by age 12. According to PBS, “FINA members widely adopted a new ‘gender inclusion policy’ — that only permits swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events.” But this so-called solution opens another dangerous door. There must be a different way than encouraging young children to undergo life-changing procedures in order to preempt the effects of puberty.

For example, transgender athletes could have a league of their own. Admittedly, this is a complicated issue that will take much time and honest discussion to resolve. However, I know injustice when I see it. This complex situation requires a soberminded dialogue, rather than impulsive decisions based on the fear of being politically incorrect or offending others. Although many are hesitant to speak out, I know that this point of view is not in the minority. And most importantly, I, like many others, know what injustice feels like.

And for that, we all have a responsibility to speak out.

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