- The Magazine
Tennis star Martina Navratilova is calling for a special exemption for elite athletes following President Joe Biden’s executive order prohibiting discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Speaking with BBC Radio 4, Navratilova, who has won 18n Grand Slam singles titles, proposed a provision that would set forth certain guidelines intended to ensure a level playing field in elite women’s sports.
She said she supports the idea of allowing transgender athletes to compete, but wants to ensure that cisgender women are not placed at a competitive disadvantage, saying the physical advantages for transgender females who had gone through male puberty were “pretty obvious.”
Navratilova wants to avoid a situation in which transgender athletes could compete according to their gender identity simply by identifying as female, rather than requiring them to undergo hormone therapy, saying that self-identification would not provide “a level playing field,” according to ESPN.
Navratilova was one of several figures involved in launching a Women’s Sports Policy Working Group earlier this week, which purports to advocate for a “science-based, ethical approach” to “establish a middle ground that protects girls’ and women’s sport and accommodates transgender athletes.”
“We are only talking about taking a carve-out or a separate policy for elite sports or sports at the higher level of high school, college and pros,” she said in the BBC 4 interview.
Biden issued the order on his first day in office in an attempt to ensure that the federal government is in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, a case in which the justices ruled 6-3 that LGBTQ people were protected from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In order to ensure compliance with the court’s findings, Biden’s executive order requires government agencies to adopt the view that anti-LGBTQ instances of discrimination should be considered illegal forms of sex-based discrimination.
While Biden’s order is not intended to exclusively deal with the participation of transgender athletes in sports, the order does cover instances where school-age children who identify as transgender have been barred from accessing certain facilities or participating in individual sporting events like track and field, cross-country, swimming, or wrestling.
Moreover, the inclusion of transgender athletes in sports has become the latest sticking point in the larger debate over whether Congress should pass a law explicitly prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, or access to public accommodations such as restaurants, movie theaters, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, retail establishments, and libraries.
The Democratic-led Congress previously passed a version of the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit such discrimination, in 2o19. But it never received a vote, or even a committee hearing in the Republican-led U.S. Senate.
Critics of transgender inclusion in sport — some motivated by genuine emotions, and others using the controversy cynically to stop any pro-LGBTQ protections from becoming enshrined in law — have fixated on the effect that nondiscrimination policies may have as it pertains to women’s sports.
Several state legislatures have taken up bills this year to explicitly ban transgender athletes from competing in sports based on the gender with which they identify, while other states have introduced similar bills specifically barring transgender females from competing in non-team sports designated for women.
Critics point to a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which found that transgender women maintain an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers after a year on hormone therapy, as evidence that trans inclusion promotes unfair competition and eliminates chances for women to succeed.
But that very same study — examining Air Force service members who were transitioning — found that the athletic advantage practically disappeared after two years of hormone therapy.
A similar 2015 study found that trans women ran 10 percent slower after beginning hormone therapy, and did no better against cisgender female runners than they had previously done against cisgender men.
Sharon McGowan, the chief strategy officer of Lambda Legal, dismissed the idea of an exemption, telling ESPN that the working group’s proposal “would really sweep way too far in terms of limiting the opportunity of transgender children being able to participate in a way that ensures fairness and opportunity.”
McGowan, a veteran of the Department of Justice under former President Barack Obama, said she opposes separate events for trans athletes, as some have suggested, arguing that separating out trans athletes will only lead to further stigmatization.
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