Metro Weekly

NCAA Sued for Allowing Trans Participation in College Sports

More than a dozen female athletes are suing the NCAA, alleging that transgender competitors in female sports violates Title IX.

Riley Gaines – Photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr – Creative Commons

More than a dozen female athletes have sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association over its transgender athlete participation policy.

The 16 female athletes bringing the lawsuit allege that the NCAA’s policy violates their civil rights under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at any educational institution receiving federal funds. 

Title IX has ensures that more schools provide athletic teams to women, thereby creating more opportunities to compete.

The athletes at the center of the lawsuit claim that transgender women who have undergone male puberty have a natural physiological advantage over cisgender women.

Therefore, the plaintiffs argue, allowing trans athletes to compete as women will deny cisgender women the chance to win medals and championships, and potentially earn athletic scholarships — the exact opportunities that Title IX introduced after its passage in 1972.

Under the NCAA’s current policy, updated in 2022, the NCAA has determined that the national governing body of each respective sport will determine eligibility. If there is no national policy, eligibility is determined by the policy of that sport’s international federation. If there is no international federation policy, eligibility is determined by criteria set forth by the International Olympic Committee.

Under the current phase of the new NCAA policy, a transgender female athlete must provide documentation that they have undergone testosterone suppression treatment for a full year prior to competing.

Trans female athletes must also submit lab results proving that their testosterone levels have fallen below the maximum allowable level for each individual sport within 28 days of any competition during the regular season or prior to any NCAA championship events.

Beginning in August 2024, the final implementation phase of the policy, transgender female student-athletes who have been preliminarily green-lighted for competition will have to provide documentation and lab results at least twice per year (likely more), and within four weeks of any championship events, to compete.

The athletes behind the lawsuit claim that allowing any transgender person to compete in female events is innately unfair, claiming that trans women’s biological and physiological advantages cannot be completely erased, even after undergoing testosterone suppression treatment.

“A lot of people ask us, why did we wait this long to file a lawsuit?” Kaitlynn Wheeler, a former University of Kentucky swimmer, told ABC News. “Well, we waited this long to allow the NCAA every opportunity to make the right decision. The NCAA’s most basic job is to protect fairness and the safety of its athletes, and it has failed on that simple task.”

The lawsuit cites the case of former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to win a national swimming title, as evidence for why allowing trans athletes to compete is unfair.

Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle title at the 2022 NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, and tied for fifth in the 200-yard freestyle race with former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, now an activist who pushes for anti-LGBTQ laws, and a darling of right-wing media.

As alleged in the lawsuit, during those championships, Gaines claims she was told by an NCAA official that only Thomas would be allowed to hold the fifth-place trophy during the podium ceremony.

When she questioned the official, the official reportedly responded, “I’m so sorry, we have been advised that when photos are taken it is crucial that Lia Thomas holds the trophy.”

Whether or not this conversation actually occurred, the lawsuit alleges that, due to having undergone male puberty, Thomas retained advantages, such as larger lung capacity and larger muscles, over cisgender women that allowed her to excel in women’s competitions.

The lawsuit also takes issue with allowing transgender athletes access to spaces like team locker rooms that have been designated for females, arguing that doing so violates cisgender athletes’ right to bodily privacy as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In a statement, the NCAA said that while it “does not comment on pending litigation, the Association and its members will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women’s sports and ensure fair competition in all NCAA championships.”

Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in sport, blasted the lawsuit as “the latest effort to eliminate the ability of transgender athletes to exist in the same spaces as cisgender athletes and to erode the autonomy of sport governing bodies to set evidence-based eligibility criteria as they see fit.”

“We empathize with the pain felt by any athlete who falls short of their athletic goals,” said Hudson Taylor, the executive director of Athlete Ally. “But singling out, scapegoating, or otherwise targeting trans athletes as the cause for those failures is unfounded and perpetuates stigma, stereotypes, and discrimination against transgender Americans.”

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