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This article was published 17/12/2014 (2307 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A proposal to allow transgender high school students to compete with members of the gender they feel they are -- instead of the one assigned to them at birth -- is a step toward equality in sport, and it needs our support.
On Monday, Manitoba High Schools Athletics Association executive director Morris Glimcher noted that the proposal will recognize and include transgender student athletes at the high school varsity level.
Sport remains one of the last tolerated, sex-segregated spaces in Canadian culture. For this reason, it can be exclusive and discriminatory for transgender athletes. Most sports set strict parameters on the sex of the athletes competing, and stipulate if competitions must involve one woman, one man, or teams of two or more women or men.
Even in sports where men and women compete together, strict quotas apply. For example, figure skating and mixed doubles tennis require teams to be one woman and one man.
A recent exception is the "four-person" bobsleigh event, known as the four-man bob until earlier this year. The international governing body's decision to change its rule and allow women to compete alongside men enables Canada's 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold medalist in the two-woman bobsled event, Kaillie Humphries, to proudly pilot three men in a Team Canada bobsled on the World Cup circuit.
However, this rather obscure sport is the exception, not the norm. Mixed-gender events remain rare, and a third sex category does not exist in sport. With the exception of curling, no co-ed sports are offered at the provincial level in Manitoba.
This means transgender athletes are left with few options.
To engage in rational debate about allowing transgender high school students to try out for the team of the gender category with which they identify, we need to remember three things.
The first is that there are clear distinctions between biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. Feeling trapped in the wrong body has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Language is important, and we need to understand exactly what is being debated.
Second, we need to move beyond biological sex and genitalia to expand our understanding of who counts as a boy or a girl. We need to accept transgender girls are girls, and transgender boys are boys. The issue is not about boys wanting to play on girls' teams, or girls wanting to play on boys' teams. The crux of the issue is enabling transgender boys and girls to participate on teams that match their authentic gender identities. People ask whether children, youth and teens can know their gender identity before they reach adulthood. The research literature demonstrates they can, and many do.
Third, we need to recognize scientific research does not support the idea that transgender girls will experience clear performance advantages over other girls. Despite people's fears, a recent comprehensive literature review demonstrates transgender athletes, on average, do not actually compete at an advantage.
In addition, the likelihood of a young athlete declaring him- or herself to be transgender in order to participate on a sports team is exceptionally low.
A decade ago, informed by medical doctors, lawyers, scientists and gender specialists, the International Olympic Committee adopted a transgender athlete inclusion policy. This policy enabled high-performance athletes to compete in the sex category opposite to their sex at birth. Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, transgender athletes have been welcome at the Olympic level if they meet the criteria outlined in the policy.
In 2011, the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) released its transgender athlete policy, which is considerably less restrictive than the Olympic policy.
As a community, Winnipeggers can choose to be open-minded, inclusive and welcoming to our youth who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Like the international bobsleigh federation, IOC and NCAA, we can move forward in creating gender-inclusive sport.
Or we can choose to fall back on unsupported fears about competitive advantages, engage in transphobia, and stand in the way of the good work of Glimcher and the MHSAA.
Sarah Teetzel is associate dean of kinesiology and recreation management at the University of Manitoba.