AUSTIN (KXAN) — The new guidance shared by the International Olympic Committee about transgender and intersex athletes contradicts many of the arguments made by Texas lawmakers who approved a ban this year on those students participating in sports.
After a three-year review with medical and human rights experts as well as athletes, the IOC released a framework last month that provides advice to governing sports bodies about how they should write their rules for transgender people and those with sex variances who would like to compete. Among the 10 principles outlined in the framework, it specifically states these elite athletes should no longer have a presumed advantage and excluding them from competition should be based on evidence, not testosterone levels.
“No athlete should be precluded from competing or excluded from competition on the exclusive ground of an unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status,” the IOC framework states. The document further asserts that “athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.”
Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in the U.S., consulted with the IOC during this years-long process to help craft the six-page document published in November. Anne Lieberman, the group’s policy director, said they are especially “thrilled” with the framework coming out ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“It really represents such a significant step forward and an intentional, rights-based approach that the IOC has been developing throughout all of its work since March of 2020,” Lieberman said, “so it’s amazing to see these guidelines now.”
The IOC’s framework is not required for governing bodies to follow because they individually regulate their own sports, which makes some LGBTQ advocates worry restrictions will remain for transgender or intersex athletes. The document, however, states any restrictions placed on these athletes “should be based on robust and peer reviewed research,” though it does not provide exact examples about what kind of studies that would include.
This document comes at a time when several states, including Texas, now have laws in place that prevent transgender students from competing in sports that match their gender identity. Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 25 into law in October, which mandates public school student-athletes to play on teams that align with the biological sex listed on their birth certificates at the time of their birth.
Supporters of the Texas legislation, who were mostly Republicans, said the law is a way to protect cisgender women’s rights under Title IX, a federal law that restricts discrimination on the basis of sex in educational settings. They also argued that transgender girls’ participation on teams comprised of mostly cisgender girls would present safety hazards for cisgender girls and prevent them from obtaining athletic scholarships.
Many Texas Democrats condemned the bill throughout the legislative sessions this year, saying there are no complaints related to specific transgender athletes, in addition to unknown data about how many transgender student-athletes are even playing in sports in Texas schools.
Lieberman pointed out how significant the guidance from the IOC is in terms of what advice it contains, especially in this current political climate. For example, the framework states “athletes should be allowed to compete in the category that best aligns with their self-determined gender identity.”
“The fact that the IOC is saying that trans athletes at the highest levels of sport, intersex athletes at the highest levels of sport, should not be perceived to have an alleged or unverified advantage just makes it abundantly clear how cruel and inhumane these bills are across the country,” Lieberman said. “Essentially, the most important governing body in sports is making a pathway for trans and intersex athletes to compete, then there’s absolutely no reason other than cruelty, political posturing and an anti-trans agenda to try to ban middle schoolers from playing sports with their friends because that’s essentially what we’re talking about.”
Lieberman also wondered how an earlier release of the IOC framework may have affected the outcomes of some of these bills throughout the U.S.
“Many advocates could have pointed to the framework and have said, ‘Listen, what is this really about because it can’t be about sports and competitive advantage if the International Olympic Committee has made all of these really strong statements about fairness, inclusion and non discrimination, and spent three years consulting a wide range of stakeholders,” Lieberman said. “I think that’s also really important to note here about this framework is that they, the IOC, really took their time, heard from countless stakeholders to really make sure that they had the most robust, well-rounded and inclusive framework that they could put out.”
Defining transgender & intersex
Because this article contains information about guidelines for transgender and intersex athletes, it’s important to define what those terms mean.
According to NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, a transgender person is generally described as someone whose gender identity and/or expression may not match their physical, sexual characteristics or sex assigned at birth.
Intersex refers to people born with sex chromosomes, genitalia and/or a reproductive system not considered standard for either males or females, according to NLGJA.
The City of Austin recently approved a resolution to condemn non-consensual and medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. The vote also directed the city manager’s office to explore “methods to implement a public education campaign to provide accurate information regarding intersex healthcare.”