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Body politics: Sacramento bill considers fate of transgender athletes

Tennis player Renee Richards on the tennis court, July 1977.
Tennis player Renee Richards on the tennis court, July 1977.
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Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s AB 1266 would allow transgender students in public K-12 schools to use bathrooms and participate in team sports that correspond to their gender identity. California law currently prohibits discrimination in education, and the Ammiano bill would take protecting trans students one step further, as the first bill in the country to address issues of restroom use and school sports.

Last week, AB 1266 cleared a state assembly  and is headed next to the California Senate. It’s an issue that professional sports leagues  have had to wrestle with.

In 1997, Renée Richards sued the United States Tennis Association, and won, in order to play as a woman in the US Open. And mixed martial artist Fallon Fox came out in March as transgender, again raising the question whether she has an unfair competitive advantage over other female fighters. Both the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have implemented regulations for transgender athletes.

Is it competitively fair to allow transgender athletes to participate in team sports based on their gender? What do parents think of their kids possibly sharing a locker room with a trans student?

Interview Highlights:

Helen Carol on the concerns of parents with regard to locker rooms:
"I think that's an interesting question and it begs to the idea of certainly having education for the parents and people in the district. The transgender girl is a girl. She is not going in there as a boy to look at all the girls, she's going in there to be with her teammates to have the coach come in and talk with them, to get ready to play, and there is certainly and area of privacy that is always established in a locker room for any student who wants to have privacy. Fortunately I've been able to work with around a dozen transgender student athletes at the high school level and that has never been a problem with the parents."

Helen Carol on the issue of competitive advantage:
"That's always a fear. It's the taught that any boy or any person with a male anatomy is going to be much stronger than any girl. Again what I have found working with the athletes is that this is just not true, the transgender girl fits within the skill level of the team that they're joining. I have to tell you with the kids that I've worked with it's either been like right in the middle of the pack or a little bit below. I have not worked with a transgender student athlete that has gone in and just taken over the program."

Brad Daycus on possible complications with this legislation:
"This legislation is very radical in my opinion that it just simply says 'a boy comes to school and says you know I feel like a girl, I want to play on a girls team' and instantly that is granted, no review, no past play out, and no required prior counseling. I think that's very extreme, and unfortunate not only for the other students who have a disadvantage, for example females that don't have that testosterone level that the boy has, and the anatomical and biological advantage often times, but also it's a disadvantage for the young person who is just possibly addressing their Gender Identity Disorder and this may actually complicate these things. Not everyone who has a gender identity disorder is destined statistically to end up carrying out and becoming a full transgender person."


Helen J. Carroll, leads the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights; former head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of North Carolina-Asheville

Brad Daycus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties