NCAA warns Georgia against banning transgender athletes

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The NCAA issued a firm warning to Georgia and other states considering banning transgender students from sports – discriminate against them and risk losing upcoming championships. 

But if the NCAA hoped its statement on transgender participation would convince lawmakers to pump the brakes on anti-trans legislation, the Florida House responded two days later by passing a bill that bans transgender females from competing on women’s sports teams. 

On Monday, the NCAA said it “firmly and unequivocally” supports transgender student-athletes in college sports.

“Inclusion and fairness can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport,” the NCAA said in a prepared statement. “Our clear expectation as the Association’s top governing body is that all student-athletes will be treated with dignity and respect.”

States that ban transgender athletes from participation will risk the ability to host NCAA championships, the organization said. 

“We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them. When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the NCAA said.

The NCAA’s warning comes as several states consider legislation that targets transgender athletes. Yet a recent poll showed overwhelming public support for transgender students to play on the team they felt most comfortable joining.

In March, governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee signed into law bills banning transgender athletes. Also last month, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem declined to sign a bill passed by lawmakers prohibiting transgender athletes from taking part in sports. Noem then signed executive orders putting in place just such a ban. 

A similar ban in Idaho, passed last year, is stalled while it faces a court challenge.

The rash of legislation prompted more than 500 college athletes to urge the NCAA to uphold its nondiscrimination policy and refuse to hold championships in states that ban trans athletes.

“The NCAA claims to prioritize the safety, excellence, and physical and emotional well-being of its student-athletes and asserts that all athletes deserve a fair shot,” the students wrote in the letter. “However, it is impossible for women athletes to feel safe and supported in environments where their personal identity and integrity is questioned.”

Two students at Georgia colleges signed the letter – Clio Hancock, who is on the swimming and diving team at Emory University, and Meg Hicks, a track and field athlete at Mercer University.

The NCAA allows transgender athletes and details its trans-inclusive policies in a 38-page guide. The Georgia High School Association, which governs high school sports in the state, determines gender by what’s noted on a student’s birth certificate and expressly forbids students assigned male at birth from joining girls’ teams. Georgia is among 11 states that ban trans athletes in high school sports, according to Trans Athlete.

In Georgia, three bills targeting transgender athletes stalled during the 2021 legislative session. But the measures – from Sen. Marty Harbin and Reps. Philip Singleton and Rick Jasperse – will resurface next year. Singleton’s bill includes a ban on transgender women taking part in college athletics. 

Georgia is scheduled to host a dozen NCAA championships between 2022 and 2026. Those include the Men’s and Women’s Swimming & Diving Finals at Georgia Tech in March 2022, the Women’s Golf Regionals in 2023, the Rowing Finals in 2025, the Men’s Golf Regionals in 2026 and the Men’s and Women’s Tennis Finals in 2026.

Georgia Equality, which helped fight the trio of bills during the recent legislative session, said the proposals would also hurt Georgia’s efforts to host World Cup matches in 2026.

“This is a shameful attack on Georgia’s transgender youth and young adults,” Shannon Clawson, Georgia Equality’s statewide outreach manager, said after Singleton introduced his bill. 

“The proposed legislation does nothing to protect or support girls’ sports, rather it serves only to spread hateful stereotypes and endangers children and their ability to fully participate in important extracurricular activities. Furthermore, these actions will jeopardize our state’s ability to host important sporting events such as the World Cup and various NCAA events,” she added.

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