Most people learn about American society in the 1940s as marred by war, distrust and nationalistic sentiment. Yet textbooks do little to recognize the emergence of advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms during this time. For instance, in the 1950s, World War II veteran Christine Jorgensen became the first American transgender woman to receive sex reassignment surgery, becoming a beacon of hope and progress for the transgender community. However, Jorgensen faced backlash and was eventually outcast by the public and media. Today, freedoms of the transgender community have continued to be contested legally, politically and scientifically. This is especially visible in the athletic realm, where transgender athletic competition faces scrutiny. This is not right, nor is it just.
Transgender athletes began gaining the public’s attention in the late 20th century, when tennis player Renée Richards was barred from competing in the U.S. Open after failing to pass a “chromosomal test.” Since then, time and time again transgender athletes have been forced to compromise their identities in order to satisfy transphobic sentiment. Recently, the media has spotlighted Lia Thomas, a transgender woman and senior University of Pennsylvania swimmer making cultural and athletic history. Thomas now holds two new Ivy League and three UPenn records since moving to the women’s team. But, like Jorgensen, mass debate surrounding her gender identity and competition eligibility undermines her accomplishments. Where her great efforts should be rewarded, instead their legitimacy is questioned. Figure skater Timothy LeDuc also made history as the first openly non-binary athlete in this year’s Olympic Games. They exemplify the success that can come with spaces of inclusion replacing gender confines.
The Supreme Court, the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have all taken a side in the legality of gender identity in the U.S. In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Supreme Court ruled “discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status” illegal. This is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thus, it would be hypocritical for nationalistic individuals to oppose such a decision provided by the same institution that preserves their constitutional rights.
Last November, the IOC changed its policy recommendations for transgender and intersex athletes, leaving discretion for eligibility criteria up to individual international federations. This past January, NCAA aligned its policy with that of the IOC. While these changes are intended to support transgender and intersex athletes, the governing bodies responsible for determining eligibility are subject to bias and personal ideology.
One poll found 67 percent of adults oppose bills prohibiting transgender students from joining sports teams matching their gender identity. Meanwhile, 81 percent of Republicans think they should not be allowed to compete on those teams. Conservatives Against Discrimination challenge this statistic, providing resources for conservatives to join the anti-LGBTQ discrimination movement. This partisan shift in thought shows the increasing necessity for collective action toward equal protection from discrimination.
Individuals who disregard the legal legitimacy of transgender athletes — and more broadly, their civil rights and freedoms — often cite claims based on “science.” It should be noted science holds relevance, but those who utilize it do so incorrectly. Firstly, it is assumed that gender identity and sex assigned at birth are interchangeable — they are not. The American Psychological Association defines gender identity as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else.” Transgender is an identity, meaning an individual does not “conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Those who argue eligibility on the basis of gender are therefore factually incorrect — gender is subjective to each individual. And no one has the right to insert themselves in another’s gender identity, let alone their eligibility to compete. Secondly, dissenters argue that transgender women hold an unfair athletic advantage from past exposure to male levels of testosterone. Per research from Joanna Harper, medical physicist and transgender woman, however, “transgender women who received treatment to lower their testosterone levels did no better in a variety of races against female peers than they have previously done against male runners.” Her research highlights discrepancies in this assumption of unfairness.
If judicial ruling, partisan initiative and scientific data can converge to support transgender athletes, so should the rest of society. Simply put, transgender athletes have the same right as cisgender athletes to compete under their gender identity. Each and every gender identity deserves the same rights and freedoms found in the Constitution. To deny these individuals the ability to represent their school, their country or the very core of their being is to lack humanity itself. If that makes you uncomfortable, it is only a display of your internalized transphobia. And that has no place in the land of the free.
Grace Duregger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.