Against today’s backdrop as the 50th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Biden White House outlined changes clarifying that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, sex stereotypes and pregnancy. The proposed changes also shore up protections of alleged victims that advocates contend were weakened under the Trump administration. For example, regulations now only cover formally submitted written complaints that allege sexual misconduct and request an investigation. Under the Biden administration’s proposal, any complaint must be investigated.
Title IX was a boon to girls sports, mandating, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
The divide over whether students who are born male but identify as female should be able to join girls teams doesn’t necessarily reflect the usual liberal/conservative standoff. Some parents argue transgender girls must be treated differently because they bring physical advantages to competitions.
The national debate over gender identity and biological sex intensified in March when University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first known transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship in any sport. Prior to transitioning from male to female, Thomas swam three seasons for the Penn men’s team.
Among those who questioned Thomas’ participation were 16 of her teammates on the Penn women’s team. In a letter to the Penn officials this year, the swimmers wrote: “We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman ... However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.”
The vast majority of trans students aren’t competing for national championships. In vetoing a ban on trans girls playing sports in March, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox pointed out there were only four trans students on high school teams in all of Utah.
“Four kids who aren’t dominating or winning trophies or taking scholarships. Four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day. Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” said Cox.
President Joe Biden’s proposals — which now go to public comment — reverse the more restrictive reach of Title IX adopted by his predecessor Donald Trump. With Trump’s blessing, then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos imposed new rules that brought a more courtroom-like approach to the process, tightening the definitions of sexual harassment and allowing cross-examination of alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault. Under Trump policies, Title IX’s harassment protections didn’t extend to gender identity.
Cardona said Title IX must safeguard trans students. “I want the same opportunities afforded to my daughter, and my son, and my transgender cousin, so they can achieve their potential and reach their dreams,” he said. “Together, we must seize this opportunity to better protect LGBTQ youth who face bullying and harassment, experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, and too often grow up feeling they don’t belong. You have worthy dreams and incredible talents. You deserve the opportunity to shine, authentically and unapologetically. The Biden-Harris administration has your back.”