116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa City West High School sophomore Dexter Hanna can see both sides of the debate about whether transgender girls should compete on girls sports teams.
“In one part of my mind, it's kind of not fair to let them compete on the girls’ team. Biological males are bigger and stronger and their bodies are built that way,” said Dexter, 16. “But if they want to compete on the girls’ team, it's kind of horrible to tell them no because you're denying them the right to express their gender identity. It's a tough question.”
Dexter identifies as male, but swims on the West girls swim team. Part of his decision is based on feeling like he wouldn’t be competitive with biological males, but the other part is about the differences in boys’ and girls’ swim uniforms.
“For other athletes, it's easier to pass as the other gender,” he said. “But for swimmers, you have to wear a skintight suit, which drastically emphasizes your gender at birth.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would sign a bill banning biological males who identify as girls from competing on girls sports teams. She told Fox News her opinion comes after raising three daughters and having three granddaughters who compete in sports.
“I think it’s an issue of fairness,” she said during a May news conference.
Seven states passed laws this year that restrict transgender athletes’ access to sports and three dozen states — including Iowa — introduced similar bills, ESPN reported in September.
Reynolds said in May she already was working with Iowa lawmakers to draft legislation to restrict transgender girls from competing on girls teams. Some Statehouse watchers predicted a bill might come up in the special legislative session called for Oct. 5 to discuss redistricting, but it didn’t.
“In terms of will there be a bill, I think that’s an 100 percent guarantee,” Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa, which supports equality for LGBTQ Iowans, said about the likelihood of a bill in the 2022 legislative session, which starts Monday in Des Moines.
“How far it gets depends on how it’s constructed,” Crow said.
Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, chair of the House Education Committee, said he expects a bill on transgender sports to arise.
“This is an issue many of our members are hearing from Iowans about quite a bit,” he said in an email. “People are concerned with protecting the integrity of girls‘ sports.”
But Hite said he wants any legislation to be helpful for schools — not just something to score political points.
“We can’t just pass something to pass something,” Hite said. “We need to work with the IGHSAU (Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union) and other interested parties to see if we can find a solution that is workable.”
School superintendents and the Iowa Girls’ Union are eager for guidance. Although there have been no Iowa challenges of district decisions on transgender athletes so far, parents in other states have filed lawsuits and Title IX gender equity complaints, ESPN reported.
“It would be very helpful for legislation to address this issue to establish clarity, guidelines or rules that will be consistent across Iowa,” Davis Eidahl, superintendent of the Solon Community School District who serves on the Representative Council of the Girls Athletic Union, told The Gazette in an email.
Iowa Code Chapter 216.9 prohibits discrimination in educational institutions based on “race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.“ But the code excludes school athletic programs.
“You can discriminate if it’s deemed an unfair advantage,” Gary Ross, associate director for the Girls Athletic Union, told The Gazette.
Ross said he used to get a call a year from districts seeking guidance from the union on transgender sports. But he’s received 15 to 18 calls so far this year.
Ross points district leaders to the union’s transgender policy.
“The transgender student at an Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union member school who identifies as a female despite having been born with male genitals shall be allowed to fully compete as a female as long as she consistently identifies as a female at school, home and socially,” the statement says.
It’s up to the school or district to determine a student’s gender, but if students or parents disagree, the union would handle appeals.
The union board and council discussed Nov. 3 whether schools should require students to be taking hormones to participate on a sports team that doesn’t match their biological gender. The NCAA says collegiate student-athletes must show they are taking or plan to take hormones as part of a gender transition.
“Do we want to be in a position of pushing that?” Russ Adams, superintendent at MOC-Floyd Valley Community School District, based in Orange City, and union board member said about hormone treatment.
Even if the Iowa Legislature doesn’t issue an across-the-board ban, a bill setting rules for participation could be embarrassing or harmful for students, Crow said. A previous bill on trans athletes required genital inspections, he said.
“When you do it with legislation, there’s very little ability to go change it with new evidence we have,” Crow said.
Dexter, whose favorite swim strokes are the butterfly and long-distance freestyle, said he thinks it’s more important to have rules for transgender athletes when it comes to national competitions — such as trying out for an Olympic team — rather than high school sports participation.
“It could be really detrimental to some people's mental health,” he said about banning trans girls from competing on girls’ teams. “We already have it hard anyways because we're in high school, we’re figuring ourselves out, trying to make new friends — oftentimes failing. If someone is told ‘just go back to being a boy,’ it hurts.”
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