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Biden Title IX changes threaten local control, just like those disliked Republican bills
Last week, the Biden administration continued its attack on female student athletes by proposing a major rewrite of regulations under Title IX of United States Code, the section of American law that deals with sex discrimination in K-12 schools and colleges that receive federal funding. The party in power in Washington that claims to champion women’s rights is targeting women’s scholastic sports, threatening the rights of women who want to compete fairly. If implemented, compliance would mean that female student-athletes could be forced to compete with and against some males with distinct physical advantages.
I use phrases like “attack on female[s],” “targeting,” and “threaten the rights of” very deliberately. They’re a quintessential part of the political opposition playbook. Yet the loudest political opposition in Iowa, which throws those phrases around continually, has been conspicuously mum on this issue, even though the Biden administration is doing exactly what they claim to hate about Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s Republican legislative majority: passing LGBTQ-centric policies that benefit one group at the expense of another.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) from the Department of Education states that the DOE is proposing to amend Title IX by adding regulations that prohibit schools receiving federal funding from implementing sex-based eligibility criteria for participation in athletics if that criteria does not also allow a student to compete on a male or female team that corresponds with their gender identity.
Title IX was implemented in 1972. Its scope applied to prohibiting sex-based discrimination in all education programs receiving federal dollars (during the 2018-2019 school year, 8 percent of all public school funding, or over $63 billion, came from the federal government.) But its crown jewel has been the creation and thriving of girls’ and women’s athletic programs nationwide. The inspiring success of the Iowa Hawkeye women’s basketball team, not to mention the selection of Iowa State Cyclones player Stephanie Soares as 4th-overall in the recent WNBA draft, tells us that the state of Iowa has benefited richly from Title IX.
Construing rules devised on the basis of sex to include the scope of gender identity highlights the incredible difference between the two. Sex is a biological characteristic determined by chromosomes and reproductive organs. Gender identity is psychological, an intrinsic feeling from within the human psyche. Sex is immutable; gender identity can theoretically evolve.
The proposed new Title IX rule prioritizes identity over biology, seemingly ignoring the role that an athlete’s sex has played in classification of sports and criteria concerning eligibility over the last 50 years. The result is that some athletes will participate in programs for the sex opposite theirs, competing with members of the opposite sex, regardless of the marked differences in athletic ability and endurance between the two sexes.
I touched on some of the physical differences between males and females in a column I wrote in March 2022. Most of those differences favor males, giving them a distinct performance advantage over females beginning with the onset of puberty. Males have more optimal levels of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to other parts of the body, contributing to greater higher aerobic capacity. Even when matched in height with other males, females typically have smaller lungs and smaller respiratory airways. With larger and denser bones, male skeletons are stronger than female. Studies show that females are at a significantly higher risk of ACL injuries than men.
The differences continue, but overall, males are larger, stronger, and faster than females. Hormone therapy is alleged by some to erase the physical differences between sexes, but emerging research suggests that hormone suppression cannot completely mitigate the advantage males enjoy over females, acknowledging that testosterone levels, until recently the gold standard of determining eligibility for competition, are not the sole determiner of physical advantage.
Those advantages are especially obvious in timed sports such as swimming and running track. Over 17 seconds separate the male and female NCAA Division I records for the 500 meter freestyle swim. Those differences are also reflected in overall placement. While competing as a male, former Penn swimmer Lia Thomas ranked 65th in the country in the 500 m freestyle. But competing as a woman in 2022, Thomas took 1st place in the same event, besting an Olympic silver medalist by over 1.5 seconds.
While transgender females tend to have a performance advantage, transgender males have a rules advantage when competing on male teams. Iszac Henig, a transgender male D1 swimmer at Yale, switched from the women’s to the men’s team this year after beginning testosterone-based hormone therapy. Testosterone, along with all other anabolic agents, is a banned substance under NCAA rules, for which exemptions require special permission. Although Henig has placed far lower competing against males than against females, Henig nevertheless is entitled to take substances that would get competitors suspended or dismissed from the sport.
Many states, including Iowa, now have laws to protect girls’ sports from unfair competition between bodies with lopsided advantages. The proposed Title IX changes threaten to undermine all of that, on the erroneous contention that transgender women and girls are excluded. But limiting girls’ and women’s sports in Iowa to the genetically female does not bar transgender females from sport. Nor does playing on a team matching their sex determined at conception erase their gender identity.
Nothing in Iowa state law prohibits a transgender student-athlete from being recognized as a player by their stated identity. A transgender student-athlete would still be able to wear a uniform matching their gender identity. They would still be described or referred to by their chosen name and pronouns. They would be no more ostracized — a female-identifying player on a boys’ or men’s team is no more notable or noticeable than a chromosomal male playing on a girls’ or women’s team.
But for many, the proposed Title IX changes have nothing to do with sports, or fairness in sports. No matter how absurdly obvious the mismatch in ability and athleticism, agreement or disagreement can’t be found in logic, or science — it’s found in ideology and partisan alignment. As a result, the same people who’ve shrieked about Republican overreach since the beginning of the legislative session have nothing to say about the Biden DOE’s overreach.
They’re the same ones who balked at Iowa Republicans in 2019 for setting restrictions on how local governments increase their property tax revenue. They lost their tator tots in 2017 when county-level minimum wage hikes were rescinded by the state. They’re losing their goose feathers now over bills such as that proposing content restrictions in school libraries statewide. (Indeed, those proposals would surely come with unintended consequences depending on how those restrictions would be interpreted and enforced.) But implement sweeping federal regulations that would undercut laws in multiple states passed to ensure fairness in female sports? Thumbs-up!
It really is all political. Equality has been trampled on in the name of equity. It’s quite ironic, because these new regulations ensure neither.
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