Sunday, May 19, 2024

Athletics shows for trans athletes

Plattsburgh State Athletics staff listens to information and discussion about including transgender students in college sport. A few other staff members joined the session on Zoom.


By Aleksandra Sidorova

Transgender athletes are banned from participating in school sports that align with their gender identity in 24 states. New York has no such bans, but the issue is tricky to navigate nonetheless.

Plattsburgh State Athletics staff, including coaches, attended a session tackling the contentious topic of transgender athletes in sports Wednesday, March 27.

Answering a question asked at the session, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Howard said that this is the first year that the department has worked with transgender athletes interested in playing at the intercollegiate level.

Led by SUNY Cortland professors Erin Morris and Kris Newhall, the session discussed the ways sports at every level can include transgender athletes while questioning how and why sports are separated.

While it is relatively easy to include all genders in recreational and club sports — SUNY Plattsburgh’s recreational sport policy allows students to participate according to how they identify — rules by sports governing bodies can conflict with nondiscrimination policies set by the state or universities. 

Howard confirmed that for team sports affiliated with the NCAA, Athletics has to comply with its regulations, which still require documentation of the athlete’s testosterone levels.

Kelly Metzgar, one of the event’s organizers and a transgender woman, said the response to transgender athletes is “really overblown.” 

“There’s not a lot of trans athletes to begin with,” Metzgar said.

A 2022 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that in the U.S., about 1.6 million people 13 and older identify as transgender. The focus tends to fall specifically on trans athletes’ participation in women’s sports, and researcher and medical physicist Joanna Harper, interviewed by Newsweek, estimated there were fewer than 100 transgender athletes nationwide interested in competing in women’s sports.

Newhall argued against the notion that restricting transgender women’s participation in sports uplifts cisgender women in the field.

“Sport has historically not been a safe space in a lot of ways — it’s not inclusive to cisgender women, either,” Newhall said. “We are really creating rules for a handful of people. … It makes me so angry because it’s trans people who are in danger, not the other way around.”

Sports is also generally regarded as a field free from politics, but it may not actually be.

“Sports has only ever been apolitical for cisgender white men who are good at sports,” Newhall said.

The session also addressed proposed changes to Title IX, a law that addresses discrimination and violence on any basis. The proposed changes would disallow any blanket bans on transgender individuals and will address issues on a case-by-case basis, which fails to protect their privacy, Newhall said.

The session was part of a day-long program hosted by SUNY Plattsburgh and the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance for Transgender Day of Visibility, a day celebrated annually March 31. 

SUNY Plattsburgh has been observing Transgender Day of Visibility for three years. Metzgar, executive director and co-founder of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, described the purpose of the day as celebrating transgender people while recognizing the challenges and discrimination they experience.

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