Oct 18, 2022 - Politics

Iowa school districts in limbo on handling transgender sports ban

Illustration of a soccer ball with the patches colored in light pink and blue, similar to the transgender flag.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Iowa school districts are navigating gray areas with the state's new law banning transgender girls from playing in sports that align with their gender identity.

Driving the news: The Biden administration proposed expanding federal Title IX rules to protect transgender students and prohibit schools and universities from banning them from sports.

  • Title IX protects people from sex-based discrimination based in education programs, but the new proposal would include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Yes, but: The U.S. Department of Education has not yet released final details on sports eligibility and whether transgender students can participate based on their gender identity.

  • With the midterm elections around the corner, the Biden administration is expected to wait on its ruling, so Democrats won't have to campaign on it, Politico reports.

Zoom in: That leaves Iowa school districts in an "administrative nightmare" as they try to choose between following state or federal law, said Damian Thompson, spokesperson for Iowa Safe Schools, an LGBT youth advocacy group.

  • "In addition, it's caused trauma for our transgender girl students and our transgender students in general," Thompson said.

State of play: Des Moines schools and the majority of the metro's suburban districts say they're following state law and have not knowingly handled a situation where a trans girl wanted to participate in a sport.

  • In West Des Moines, the district's athletics director Brad Rose said they're going on a case-by-case basis, since federal guidelines conflict with state law.
  • In Johnston, a parent asked if her trans son could participate in boy's basketball. The Iowa High School Athletic Association advised that he could play because the law only affects trans girls, according to Lynn Meadows, the district's spokesperson.

What they're saying: The law, which took immediate effect in the spring, has created a chilling effect among transgender students who are totally abstaining from after-school sports, Thompson said.

The other side: "Forcing females to compete against males is the opposite of inclusivity and it's completely unfair," Reynolds said, prior to signing the law this year.

Other Iowa Republicans have recently jumped on the opportunity to speak about transgender athletes prior to the midterm election.


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