Title IX transformed women’s sports.
The 1972 federal law was passed to end discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities — notably athletics — in schools and colleges that receive federal funds. It worked. When the law was passed, only about 320,000 girls and women played high school and college sports. That number today is about 3.4 million.
The law corrected a glaring societal imbalance concerning women and athletics. The new standard it introduced was, and still is, equal treatment of the sexes in athletics. Societies evolve. Now, more than 50 years since it was enacted, Title IX needs an update to preserve the balance.
The issue is whether transgender females, specifically those who went through puberty as males before transitioning to women, should be allowed to compete against cisgender female athletes — those who identify as females all their lives.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the governing body of scholastic sports in Connecticut, has since 2013 allowed trans athletes to participate on the teams that represent their current sexual identity. They did so because they thought it unfair not to. But in doing so they create the kind of imbalance that Title IX was supposed to correct. They made the wrong call.
Here’s why. Men, in general, are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. For example, the average NBA player is a little over 6-foot-6 and weighs 217, while the average WNBA player is just over 6 feet and weighs 166.
That is why there are two leagues, and why nearly all sports competitions are divided by gender (the only Olympic sport in which men compete against women is equestrian, where the horse does the heavy lifting). Some sports are also divided by weight and age. The idea is to create fair competition.
It is inescapable that bodies that go through male puberty develop musculoskeletal physiques that are affected by testosterone in ways that make them bigger, stronger, and faster than bodies that do not. When a person transitions from male to female after puberty, she keeps most of these characteristics, thus creating an obvious advantage in athletic competition. In basketball terms, the 6-foot-6 player gets more rebounds than the 6-foot player.
So, allowing transgender female athletes to compete against cisgender females creates a disadvantage for the latter, which is the opposite of what Title IX was trying to achieve.
Two world class athletes who are members of the LGBT community agree. Martina Navratilova, 18-time Grand Slam winner in professional women’s tennis, said that allowing transgender females to compete against cisgender females is a form of cheating.
She elaborated: “When I talk about sports and rules that must be fair, I am not trying to exclude trans people from living a full, healthy life,” she said. “All I am trying to do is to make sure girls and women who were born female are competing on as level a playing field as possible within their sport.”
Trans activist and former Olympic men’s decathlon champion Caitlin (nee Bruce) Jenner praised the recent decision by FINA (the world body governing swimming), to ban from women’s competitions people who have gone through male puberty, saying: “What’s fair is fair!”
That is the point. The CIAC ‘s transgender policy is unfair because it creates an illusion of fairness but allows one group of athletes a competitive advantage that is unfair.
To say that transgender females should not compete against cisgender females raises the question of who they should compete against, because they have a right to take part in athletics as well. There are options, one of which is to compete against cisgender males, or, if there are enough transgender females, against each other. Some have suggested that in noncontact sports such as track, two winners be named.
Solutions involving drugs should be avoided. If performance enhancing drugs are bad, performance diminishing drugs are no better.
It’s possible the courts will supply a solution, although a recent Connecticut case suggests otherwise. In December 2022, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit brought by three Connecticut female high school athletes who challenged the CIAC’s transgender participation policy. The suit was dismissed on procedural and legal grounds such as standing and mootness and did not resolve the substantive issue.
For that we must turn to Congress. The lawmakers should revise Title IX to re-level the playing field in school sports. We can work out the details.
Bill Connon of Canton is a retired lawyer and a former adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education’s graduate program.