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Banning Transgender Athletes

Updated: Feb 19

Dear Asian Youth,

The most recent setback for transgender rights in the United States targets the youth. While debates regarding the inclusion of transgender athletes have been brewing for many years, these objections are now extending to adolescents. At the moment, the country is divided over the surge of bills banning trangender youth from competing on sports teams in accordance with their gender identity. Legislation like the Mississippi Fairness Act specifically prevents transgender women from competing on female teams, arguing that trans women have a physical advantage over cisgender women because they were assigned male at birth.

Proponents who claim to be fighting for the integrity of these teams point to statistics demonstrating that males compete better athletically than females. For example, a study in NCBI analyzed 82 quantifiable events since the beginning of the Olympics and found that the gender gap between male and female competitors ranged from 5.5% to 18.8%. Another paper by Duke Law claims that there’s an average 10-12% performance gap between elite males and elite females due to a difference in testosterone. This statistic is described as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Additionally, the previously cited Mississippi Fairness Act states that testosterone levels affect hemoglobin levels, body fat content, the storage and use of carbohydrates, and the development of Type 2 muscle fibers. These are all traits that impact one’s speed and power while performing physical activity.

While it may seem like people assigned male at birth have an inherent advantage, opponents find that these incomprehensive studies are being weaponized against the transgender community. Pediatrician and geneticist Dr. Eric Vilain, who has dedicated his career to researching sex differences in athletes, points out that we aren’t actually seeing evidence of transgender women using this potential advantage to systematically compete and win. Despite the lack of restrictions for transgender athletes in the 2016 Olympics, no transgender athletes competed in have ever competed in these games. Dr. Eric Vilain also discusses that these “inherent advantages” differ greatly from sport to sport. In an interview with NPR, he states, “the body of a marathon runner is extremely different from the body of a shot put champion, and a transwoman athlete may have some advantage on the basketball field because of her height, but would be at a disadvantage in gymnastics. So it's complicated.”

Additionally, many transgender women who are transitioning choose to take hormones that can reduce their testerone levels, but also and, in turn, their speed, strength, and endurance. Many wonder whether these women will be forced to compete on male sports teams too. Some studies have found that transgender women retain an advantage over their cisgender counterparts after a year of hormone therapy (NBC News). But as these studies are not widely applicable, at what point can a transgender woman be considered not to have an athletic advantage? Some global competitions have set upper limits for testerone levels, but whether this is appropriate for high school and middle students is questionable.