On October 25, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law "Texas House Bill 25" (TX HB 25), a bill designed to preserve school sports rights for girls. The key portion of the law proscribes schools from permitting athletes to cross biological categories in interscholastic athletic competition. Regardless of gender identity, boys must compete against boys, girls against girls.
The Guardian published a critical op ed, whose headline proclaimed: "Texas says excluding trans kids from school sports is about 'fairness.' It's not." The author, Alana McLaughlin, a biological male who identifies as transgender and uses female pronouns, asserts that Texas governor Abbott is using transgender children as scapegoats to score political points. McLaughlin's position is that biological males should be allowed to compete in female athletic categories without restriction if they claim to have in fact transitioned.
This is in fact the common position of most influential sport bodies, such as the anti-doping authority Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES). What is also common amongst these organizations is the awareness that post-puberty males enjoy a physical advantage over females that can be as significant—or more than—doping, but that the disparity is a price worth paying for the greater principle of "inclusion." Data gathered from run, jump, and throw tests show that even before puberty boys have an enormous advantage over girls in speed, power and strength.
But McLaughlin is not interested in the disparity. McLaughin is instead fixated on the "inclusion" principle: the right of trans-identified youth to enjoy the many social and physical benefits sport participation confers.
Trans activists take the line that the only way to achieve such benefits is to engage in competitive sports. But there are many other ways for boys and girls to be involved together in healthy physical activity: after school recreational leagues, intramural games and physical education classes. Even in serious sports environments, male and female athletes often train together. But when it comes to racing for the prize, it is clear that for the sake of fairness and inclusion – inclusion of girls, that is, since some girls are necessarily excluded when male-born athletes enter their category, while no boy need fear exclusion with the entrance of female-born athletes in his category—each biological sex needs to compete in separate categories.
Even when the playing field is level—boys against boys, girls against girls—competitive sport is by nature exclusionary: Sorry, you didn't make the team; sorry, someone else will be team captain; sorry, you won't be travelling with the team on this particular tournament, and so forth. To argue on the premise that for the sake of inclusion sport must abandon the merit principle in order to accommodate itself to the individual athlete's psychological needs is to misrepresent the nature of competitive sport.
But the most troubling aspect of this Guardian article is the author's own story, which completely undermines the case McLaughlin is attempting to make. McLaughlin used to be a special forces soldier in the US military with a male name who "transitioned" in 2010 at 31 years of age. McLaughlin recently won a disturbingly one-sided MMA fight against a French woman, Celine Provost, literally choking her until blood splattered out of her mouth. Even though the choke hold is "legal" in this sport, it was a disturbing sight, roundly condemned as brutal and unsporting by MMA fans like Joe Rogan.
McLaughlin's piece is heavy on emotion, light on logic. In the article's conclusion, McLaughlin offers what appears to be two overarching principles meant to clinch the case: "Trans kids deserve equal access to sports," and "We deserve love and safety and inclusion." Both are easily rebutted. Trans kids already have full access to sports right now—in the category pertaining to their biological sex. And surely McLaughlin would agree girls also deserve love, safety and inclusion. But a comprehensive review undertaken by the Sports Council Equality Group (SCEG) in the UK concluded that prioritizing "inclusion" in sports undermines fairness and safety for all participants.
The question raised in this op ed can be readily turned against the author: "Who is it that is using 'trans kids' as a scapegoat to promote one's own entitled self-interest?" Moreover, McLaughlin's position is counterproductive in helping true trans-identifying individuals to find innovative and respectful accommodation in sport.
Ironically, TX HB 25 would not have been necessary, but for activists like McLaughlin.
Until the IOC and international sports federations figure out the best policy going forward, the stipulation that males compete with males and females with females is the only way to preserve full inclusivity for the female person in sport. Any departure from this model necessarily leads to violations of safety and fairness that will exclude girls from their own athletic competitions.
Linda Blade, ChPC, PhD Kinesiology, is President of Athletics Alberta, and author, with journalist Barbara Kay, of the book: UNSPORTING: How Trans Activism and Science Denial are Destroying Sport.
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