Apr 17, 2023 - Politics

No changes yet to Arizona trans athlete ban from proposed fed rule

Illustration of a ref holding a whistle and a red penalty card with the transgender symbol on it.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A proposed federal rule on transgender athletes in public schools could force Arizona to loosen its strict prohibition enacted last year; but for now it's business as usual as the proposal goes through the approval process.

Context: The Biden administration proposed a rule earlier this month that would bar K-12 schools and colleges that receive federal funding from enforcing across-the-board bans on transgender athletes.

  • If finalized by the U.S. Department of Education, it will become part of Title IX, the landmark 1972 rule requiring general equality in school athletics.
  • Yes, but: The proposal would also allow schools to ban transgender athletes in specific cases to accomplish "important educational objectives," such as ensuring fairness or preventing sports-related injuries.
  • That would let elementary school students participate on teams that match their gender identity while permitting bans on more competitive higher-level sports in high school and college.

Why it matters: \The proposed rule would effectively remove blanket bans in Arizona and other states.

  • Former Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill last year barring people who were born biologically male from playing on teams designated for girls or women.

What's next: In Arizona, nothing will change unless the federal rule is enacted, and the Arizona Interscholastic Association will continue to abide by state law, spokesperson Seth Polansky said.

  • Even if the rule is put into place, if it conflicts with state law, the status quo may remain "until a resolution is reached between the parties at the state and federal levels," he added.

Between the lines: The rule faces criticism from both sides.

  • Supporters of transgender athletes decried it would permit bans in some cases, with Erin Reed, an activist and researcher, saying it can't be interpreted in "any other way than a betrayal."
  • Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, blasted the proposal as "extremely unfair, and in some cases, devastating to girl competitors."

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