Activist groups lobby NCAA ahead of possible transgender policy

Two weeks after the NAIA barred transgender women from competing in women's sports in its interscholastic competitions, activist groups on both sides of the issue have mobilized ahead of an NCAA board of governors meeting scheduled for Thursday.

On Tuesday, Athlete Ally released an open letter to the board of governors in support of transgender inclusion. Champion Women and Concerned Women for America launched an email campaign last week asking the NCAA to adopt a policy that would bar transgender women from competing in the women's category across NCAA sports and championships.

The NCAA declined to comment on whether the board of governors would consider the issue at its meeting later this week.

Athlete Ally collected more than 400 signatures from current and former NCAA, professional, Olympic and Paralympic athletes in support of transgender inclusion.

"By barring transgender athletes, you would be severely limiting the capacity of your member institutions to protect and support their athletes," the letter said. "Moreover, you would be actively disparaging transgender athletes -- the same athletes you chose to protect when you agreed to serve on the Board of Governors."

Among those who signed the petition are athletes Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Christine Sinclair, Lynn Williams, Layshia Clarendon, Brianna Turner, Sue Bird, Nikki Hiltz, Chris Mosier and WNBA coach Cheryl Reeve.

"The time is now for the NCAA and the nationwide athletic community to speak up and affirm that sports should be for everyone, including transgender athletes," Rapinoe said in a statement. "To my fellow cis women athletes: the time is now to say loud and clear that bans against trans athletes framed as 'protecting women's sports' do not speak for us, and do nothing to protect us. To the trans athletes fearing that they may be sidelined from the sport they love: I see you and hear you and I am WITH YOU."

Champion Women and Concerned Women for America urged supporters to ask the NCAA to follow the NAIA's lead.

"Recent decisions like that of the NAIA, demonstrate a commitment to maintaining sport categories based on biological sex, ensuring that female athletes are not treated unfairly," one of the form emails read. "These policies not only uphold the safety and integrity of sports but also reinforce the principle that female athletes should compete against each other on an equal footing."

"I want [a policy] to say that everyone is welcome to participate in sports, but just like weight categories or age categories, that people need to compete in their own category," Champion Women CEO Nancy Hogshead said to ESPN. "Nobody else gets to choose what category they compete in, except for transgender athletes, particularly men who identify as transgender."

On April 8, the NAIA announced a policy change for transgender athletes, restricting the women's category for those who were assigned female at birth. Transgender women are eligible to participate in practices and women's team activities internal to their school, but are not eligible for interscholastic competition.

The NAIA oversees approximately 83,000 athletes at schools across the country. The policy goes into effect in August.

Other athletic bodies such as World Aquatics, World Athletics and the Cycling Federation have adopted policies that do not allow transgender women who have experienced testosterone puberty to compete in the women's category, but do not go as far as the NAIA.

"We looked at every policy that's out there, in terms of what other athletic organizations are doing," NAIA president Jim Carr told ESPN. "We did consider some of those policies whether it be testosterone levels or changes pre-puberty, but our task force ended up recommending the one that went to our council of presidents. We do recognize that there are lots of different opinions out there. I think everyone agrees that the research is pretty thin at this point. At the end of the day, our group felt like you didn't have enough research to say you could fully mitigate what's known as the male advantage."

The NCAA first adopted a policy governing transgender athlete participation in 2010, providing a pathway to participation for transgender women and men in accordance with their gender identities. It revised that policy on Jan. 19, 2022, to a sport-specific approach.

At that time, Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, was competing on the University of Pennsylvania women's swim team. Thomas would go on to win a national title in the 500-yard freestyle in March 2022. The NCAA currently requires transgender women wanting to compete in women's sports to submit documentation, including testosterone levels, to the NCAA committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports. The committee's medical panel decides eligibility.

"College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships," the NCAA said in a statement.