It’s no secret that some politicians and pundits work to divide the country by stoking the so-called “culture war” with invented problems.
Participation in school athletics by transgender athletes is one of these invented problems.
It’s one thing for culture warriors to assign themselves to pretend issues. But when governing bodies — be it Congress, a state legislature or a public school board — enact actual policies based in such fearmongering, they should be sure to count on more severe repercussions than mere criticism on social media.
It is, after all, illegal to discriminate against transgender students under the federal law Title IX.
While a handful of Pennsylvania lawmakers seek to pass an ill-advised bill that would ban transgender girls and women from competing on all-girls sports teams in high school or college, Hempfield School District in Lancaster County is considering implementing a similar ban on its own.
Officials in Hempfield School District — or any school district — who push for policies that discriminate against transgender athletes should think twice about the legal ramifications of implementing such a policy.
They need not look far.
These officials would do well to remember that the Pine-Richland School District paid about $135,000 in 2017 after it was found by a federal court to have discriminated against three transgender students.
They should remember the Boyertown Area School District, where the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania successfully defended students’ rights to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
They should remember the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a landmark case that found that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
And they should remember that, just this week, the Supreme Court “rejected a Virginia school board's appeal to reinstate its transgender bathroom ban, handing a victory to transgender rights groups and a former high school student who fought in court for six years to overturn the ban,” as reported by The Associated Press.
Hempfield School District officials should reject any discriminatory policies against transgender student athletes — not just because they open the district up to a number of legal liabilities, but because rejecting such policies is the right thing to do.
Having the opportunity to participate in sports is good for all students and consistently yields positive results in the classroom: better grades, greater homework completion, higher educational and occupational aspirations and improved self-esteem.
Does the Hempfield School District object to such outcomes?
Transgender students participate in sports for the same reasons other young people do: to challenge themselves, improve fitness and be part of a team. Excluding transgender students from participation deprives them of opportunities available to their peers and sends the message they are not worthy of a full life.
We must reject right-wing fearmongering and fight back against attempts to use invented fears as a basis for policymaking. The fact is, transgender people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender at all levels for many years. In that time, we simply have not seen any dominance by transgender athletes at any level of competition.
Inclusion of girls and women who are transgender in athletics supports the ongoing investment in all girls through access to sports and other athletic activities.
A school district’s primary concern should be to ensure the well-being and success of the students it serves. All of them. Discriminating against any subset of students for any reason is unethical and illegal.
Those officials in the Hempfield School District who may be pushing to enact policies that discriminate against transgender athletes would do well to act like the responsible stewards of education — not discrimination — they were elected to serve as.
This op-ed was originally published on June 30 in LNP | Lancaster Online.