The conversation around transgender athletes has been roused again of late, given the Biden administration’s recent guidance on gender inclusion in schools. Those against inclusion usually push the angle that girls’ sports are at risk of being overrun by trans athletes who will snap up all of the titles, leaving cis girls with no chance to compete. This is irrational fear-mongering; here’s why:
Trans people have been playing in professional, amateur, and school sports for many years, and cis athletes still win the disproportionate majority of competitions. Transgender athletes have been permitted to play in the Olympics since 2004, for example, and literally none have taken home a medal. In fact, arguably the most famous trans athlete is Chris Mosier, who competes in men’s running (debunking multiple myths about gender and biology). This sure pokes a hole in the argument that trans girls are making off with all the trophies.
Trans students have been included in school athletics for many years and, there also, we see a real lack of evidence that they are edging out cis kids. The example oft-exploited to fight inclusion is a 2020 case accusing two trans girls at a high school track competition in Connecticut (USA) of robbing a cis girl of her chance at first place. The (rarely mentioned) sequel to this story is that, two days after a law suit was filed on behalf of the cis runner, she won a competition against those same trans girls. (And, incidentally, lost the law suit on grounds that excluding trans athletes is sex-based discrimination under Title IX). We can rest assured that any additional examples of trans athletes winning competitions will be swiftly brought to our attention but, until then, it seems this is still the main one. Hardly rampant trophy-theft.
Some of the irrational fear of trans inclusion comes, I believe, from the misconception that trans people are not real. This misunderstanding can be incredibly harmful to children. Indeed, the risk of suicide amongst transgender youth is consequential, with one recent study showing over half of transgender participants reporting that they had considered suicide within the past year. In another recent, large study, almost all (95.5%) of transgender and gender nonconforming youth reported suicide ideation at some point in their lives. However, rates of suicidality decline significantly when trans children have access to gender-affirming spaces. For example, mental health improves when gender-affirming names and pronouns are used, and when trans people have access to the bathrooms and sports teams that match their gender identity.
This might seem like an abstract peril for those not personally connected to any trans children. Take a look at this short video clip of some trans teens, and imagine requiring them to play on a sports team that aligns with their presumed chromosomes rather than their gender identity. Trans girls are girls, trans boys are boys, and non-binary people are real.
While I realize that school sports can be serious business, surely most international schools do not promote athletics merely as an opportunity for students to experience winning. I’m thinking (hoping?) that team work, persistence, fitness, responsibility, stress relief, discipline, problem-solving, resilience, fun, belonging, and other benefits are why schools spend so many resources to ensure that students have access to these activities.
For those interested in advocating gender equity in sports, I urge you to direct your concern to the very real problems of reduced attention to and sponsorship of girl’s and women’s sports, the measurable pay gap for professional women athletes, and lack of women represented in coaching and other high-level positions within athletic organizations. Indeed, celebrated women’s sport advocates Megan Rapinoe and Billie Jean King, along with 174 other women athletes have signed an amicus brief supporting the inclusion of trans women in athletics. Trans people are not an actual threat to girls’ and women’s sports.
Regardless of my own child’s gender identity, I would far rather they have the opportunity to play on a team that is inclusive than one that assumes only cis children are entitled to sport. The number of cis athletes who will come in second after a trans athlete is minuscule and, frankly, a not-very-consequential downside to the multitude benefits of practicing inclusion in schools.
Please contact me to discuss crafting and implementing a transgender and gender non-binary inclusion policy to fit your school. I specialize in international school policy development and educator training for gender and sexual diversity.
 Taliaferro, L. A., McMorris, B. J., Rider, N. G., Eisenberg, M. E. (2019). Risk and protective factors for self-harm in a population-based sample of transgender youth. Archives of Suicide Research, 23(2), 203-221.
 Kuper, L. E., Adams, N., & Mustanski, B. (2018). Exploring cross-sectional predictors of suicide ideation, attempt, and risk in a large online sample of transgender and gender nonconforming youth and young adults. LGBT Health, 5(7).
 Russell, S. T., Pollitt, A. M., & Grossman, A. H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(4), 503-505.
 Goldberg, S. K. (2021). Fair play: The importance of sports participation for transgender youth. Center for American Progress.