April 12, 2023 - 10:15am

Sense seems to be returning to the debate over transgender inclusion in sports. World Rugby, World Swimming and now World Athletics have all stepped in to protect elite women’s competition. Meanwhile, in the United States, Republican congressman Greg Steube recently reintroduced the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act to Congress.

Steube’s bill would prevent male athletes from participating in federally funded athletics programmes or activities designated for women or girls. For the avoidance of doubt, the bill specified that “sex is based on an individual’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

At a time when the United States is being torn apart by conflict over transgender rights, clear policy is needed. Not everyone is happy with this development, however. Reports have emerged about a petition to try and stop Steube’s bill in its tracks. Signed by 40 professional, Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the petition claims that the bill would have the effect of “banning transgender and intersex girls and women from participating in sports”.

That is simply not true. Sport is for all. Nobody is being prevented from competing; the issue is the class in which they should compete. But this is a petition that appeals to emotion. It continues:

If this bill passes, transgender and intersex girls and women throughout the country will be forced to sit on the sidelines, away from their peers and their communities. Furthermore, the policing of who can and cannot play school sports will very likely lead to the policing of the bodies of all girls, including cisgender girls.
- Open Letter Against HR734

The truth is that sex matters in sport. Separate men’s and women’s categories are needed because male bodies are different to female bodies. Transgender people like me might lose competitive edge when we transition, but we retain many advantages of our male biology. In short, women’s sports must not be compromised by including males who can no longer cut it in our own sex category.

Some notable women athletes are among the signatories: Megan Rapinoe, former captain of the US Women’s National Soccer Team; Becky Sauerbrunn, who is the current team captain; and ex-basketball player Sue Bird, a winner of four WNBA Championships. These stars might be acting with the best of intentions, but they are very wrong if they think that women will not be disadvantaged if they get their way.

One of their co-signatories is a case in point. Transgender powerlifter JayCee Cooper took USA Powerlifting to court — and won — after being prevented by the organisation from competing in the women’s division. If Cooper competes, women lose out. It stands to reason.

One athlete who does get it is swimmer Riley Gaines, who experienced this unfairness first hand when she competed in the pool against Lia Thomas, a biological male. Gaines has become increasingly vocal on the issue — but not without terrible personal cost. Last week, she attempted to talk about her experience to students at San Francisco State University. As events unfolded, she claims that she was assaulted and ended up barricaded in a room for three hours after she was ambushed by a group of activists.

Footage shows a baying mob screaming the usual refrains: “trans rights are human rights” and “transwomen are women”. Their antics are tedious and juvenile, but they are also terrifying for anyone who opposes them. It is foolish beyond belief to appease them. 

Emotions are running riot. Not that it seems to trouble Joe Biden. Last week his administration proposed a rule change that would expand the meaning of sexual discrimination to include gender identity. As a consequence, schools receiving federal funding would not be allowed to operate blanket policies that prevent transgender students from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

America needs clear policy, not wishful thinking, and a president who is able to discern the truth, ignore naive petitions, and stand up to the mob. Sadly, that seems a bridge too far for Biden.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.