Research on the experiences of transgender students in physical education and athletics attest to the need for more inclusive policies and practices. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
, a national organization dedicated to creating safe and inclusive K-12 schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students, conducts a biannual national survey on the experiences of LGBT students in schools. The results of the latest survey indicate that LGBT students perceive locker rooms, gymnasiums, playing fields and other physical education and athletic spaces to be among the least safe places in school where they are at a greater risk of name-calling, bullying or physical threats and violence (GLSEN). Outlined below are best practices for transgender-student inclusion in school physical education and athletic programs.
Locker rooms, toilets and showers: Transgender students should be able to use the locker room, shower and toilet facilities that are consistent with their gender identity. When requested by the transgender student, schools should provide private, separate changing, showering and toilet facilities for the student’s use, but transgender students should not be required to use separate facilities.
Every locker room should have some private options for changing, showering and toileting for use by any student who desires them. This would include transgender students.
Competition at another school: School leaders, athletic directors and coaches, in consultation with the transgender student, should notify their counterparts at other schools prior to competitions about providing access to appropriate changing, showering and toileting facilities that are comfortable and safe. This notification should maintain the student’s right to confidentiality.
Hotel rooms: Transgender students should be assigned to share hotel rooms in the same manner as all other students such overnight assignments are made with an awareness of the comfort and privacy of all teammates asked to share a room.
1. Names: In all cases, students, teammates, coaches and all others in the school should refer to transgender students by their chosen names.
2. Pronouns: Similarly, references to transgender students should reflect the student’s gender identity and pronoun preferences.
Dress Codes and Team Uniforms
1. Dress codes: Dress codes for athletic teams when traveling or during a game day at school should be gender-neutral. Instead of requiring a girls’ team to wear dresses or skirts, for example, ask that team members wear skirts or slacks that are clean, neat well cared for, and appropriately “dressy” for representing their school and team.
2. Uniforms: All team members should have access to uniforms that are appropriate for their sport and that they feel comfortable wearing. In situations such as swimming or diving when a transgender boy who has not had surgery to remove breasts is competing on a boys’ team, provisions should be made to enable that student to modify their swim uniform to cover their chest and that does not provide any competitive advantage.
In school: Members of all school communities should receive information and education about transgender identities, school or district non-discrimination policies, the use of chosen names and pronouns, and expectations for creating a respectful team and school climate for students of all gender identities and expressions.
Athletic conference personnel: Athletic conference leaders should be educated about the need for policies governing the participation of transgender students, develop such policies, and ensure that all schools in the conference understand and adopt the policies.
Opposing teams/schools: School leaders, athletic directors and coaches should communicate with their counterparts at other schools prior to competitions in which a transgender athlete is participating about expectations for treatment of transgender student-athletes on and off the field.
Training: All school or athletic representatives (conference and/or state leaders, sports information departments and personnel, school leaders, athletic administrators, team members and coaches) who are authorized to speak with the media should receive information about appropriate terminology use, use of names and pronouns, and school and athletic conference policies with regard to the participation of transgender students on school sports teams.
Confidentiality: The need for confidentiality in the presence of media to protect the privacy of transgender students must be a first priority for all sports personnel and affiliated school personnel. All medical information, including physician’s information shall be maintained confidentially in accordance with applicable state, local and federal privacy laws.
Enforcement and Non-Retaliation
1. Enforcement: Any school staff member or employee of the athletics department who violates the confidentiality of transgender students or refuses to abide by school policy by threatening to withhold athletic opportunity, by harassing the student on the basis of their gender identity and/or expression, or by breaching medical confidentiality will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge or expulsion from the school. The athletic department will also take appropriate remedial action to correct the situation. Any member of the athletic department who becomes aware of conduct that violates this policy should report the conduct to the appropriate official, such as the athletic director.
2. Retaliation: Retaliation is specifically forbidden against anyone who complains about transgender discrimination, even if the person was in error. The athletic department will take steps to prevent any retaliation against the person who made the complaint.
Adapted from On The Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes, Pat Griffin & Helen Carroll, Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2010.
Teaching Tolerance — Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate: http://www.tolerance.org/lgbt-best-practices
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health: http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition — Best Practices for Serving Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students in Schools: http://www.masstpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/MTPC-2013-K-12-Best-Practices.pdf
Women's Sports Foundation — On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Athletes: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/en/home/research/articles-and-reports/lgbt-issues/transgender-student-athlete-report
GLSEN —2013 National School Climate Survey: http://www.glsen.org/article/2013-national-school-climate-survey