US student sport regulator comes out batting for trans athletes

The NCAA has released a statement backing trans athletes and suggesting it will not hold events in anti-trans states.

Two young men wearing t-shirts supporting trans athletes

The NCAA, which regulates college athletics in the US, backed trans athletes on Monday and said they will only hold championships where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination. 

“The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” they said in a statement. “This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.”

Nearly half a million college athletes are part of the NCAA across 24 sports. Their announcement underlining their support for transgender athletes and promising not to play in discriminatory environments comes in the wake of a wave of anti-trans legislation in the US.

Last week, Arkansas became the first state to ban anyone under the age of 18 from accessing gender-affirming healthcare after the state’s General Assembly voted to override a veto on an anti-trans bill described by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson as “a vast government overreach”.

Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have signed legislation restricting transgender athletes so far this session. They follow Idaho, which became the first state to prevent transgender women and girls from playing in divisions designated for female athletes last summer. Idaho’s law is not being enforced while it faces a legal challenge; barring intervention, other states’ laws are set to take effect this summer.

While the NCAA did not explicitly state that they would avoid holding championships in states such as these, it was suggested.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the statement said. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

LGBTQ+ advocates have welcomed the development.

“Dangerous proposals around the country are putting transgender young people at risk,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “The harm is real and is felt very personally by transgender kids just trying to live their lives as who they really are. The NCAA is making it clear that their Board of Governors supports transgender athletes, and the board should hold those states passing these harmful laws accountable.”

Close to 30 states are considering legislation that would ban transgender students from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The measures are specifically meant to bar trans girls from participating.

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