Asaf Orr, attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, presented his case for transgender inclusion in sports at the annual Allen Holmes Diversity Symposium. Weber State University athletes and other attendees discussed the issue in the Wildcat Theater on the morning of Feb. 4.
“It is really important that folks understand and advocate for trans inclusion in sports,” Orr said.
He covered many topics around transgender individuals including gender dysphoria, gender identity, biological sex and gender, hormones, public opinion and the role sports play in society.
He stressed that sports are an American pastime and a pillar of community. He asserted that high school sports participation results in a higher GPA, a sense of connection to the community, increased mental and physical health and higher self-esteem.
However, some of the Weber State athletes in attendance expressed their concern.
A female WSU student athlete raised her hand to point out, in general across the human population, the pattern is that male bodies set higher athletic records than female bodies.
She asserted that this is the reason sports organizations segregate men from women.
Orr argued that it is a pervasive stereotype that boys are faster, stronger and better athletes than girls. He said excluding transgender athletes from participating in sports negatively affects their mental health and the way the public views them.
The atmosphere in the room continued to intensify during his argument against transgender women having an unfair advantage in women’s sports.
A member of WSU’s women’s track team expressed her feelings that including transgender women in women’s sports sacrifices fairness for a large majority to cater to a small minority.
“(Transgender women athletes) work hard, and they train hard and that is really the source of their success,” Orr said in response to the students’ concerns.
Orr argued that those transgender women athletes are taking testosterone suppression medication that also increases their estrogen levels.
According to him, those hormone levels put transgender women within the range of average female body types.
He also said transgender people’s hormone levels are subject to testing at elite Olympic sports levels to ensure fairness.
“We have a really skewed sense of how much transgender athletes, particularly transgender women, are winning,” Orr said. “They have won, but just like other athletes, they win some, and they lose some.”
The female track athlete responded by saying that while colleges have the same rules about hormones, transgender women do not actually face testing. She said that college athletics should have the same hormone testing standards that Olympic competitions have.
She also recounted an athletic case where a transgender woman who, when competing against men, ranked in the middle. When the trans athlete started to compete against women, she won the national title.
The student athlete believed that the transgender woman had an unfair advantage.
Orr empathized with the student’s concerns but maintained that the trans athlete has the right to compete in women’s sports. Orr said that nothing is being taken from the other female athletes, but the transgender athlete is simply where she belongs and winning.
“I totally get those questions,” Orr said. “I am glad they came up, and I am glad we were able to talk about them.”
Andrea Hernandez, chair of Allen Holmes Diversity Symposium, believes in the importance of constructive dialogue about these issues.
“Diversity is so much broader than what people think,” Hernandez said.
For more information about trans inclusion in athletics and WSU’s Annual Allen Holmes Diversity Symposium, visit https://www.weber.edu/diversity/diversitysymposium.html.