Including Transgender Athletes in Sport

I would like to heartily congratulate the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) for creating an inclusive policy at their most recent annual meeting that will enable transgender student-athletes to participate in college sports.  The policy (which we have excerpted here) provides valuable background information that includes definitions related to gender identity as well as a rationale for why the CCAA has chosen to address transgender issues in its athletic programs. The CCAA is to be commended for their progressive and inclusive approach – and I would also add that the vote to endorse the policy was unanimous.

Having worked with sport organizations for nearly two decades on issues such as diversity, discrimination, equity and homophobia, I can assure every sport leader reading this blog that your organization WILL need to address transgender inclusion at some point, if it has not already. So read on!

A handful of NSOs in Canada have policies for transgender athlete participation, but these policies have typically relied on the IOC definition of gender reassignment (as having to include anatomical surgery) and have borrowed heavily from the IOC’s restrictive 2004 consensus statement on gender reassignment in sports. We applaud the CCAA for basing its approach to transgender student-athletes on the NCAA’s much more moderate policy; a pragmatic, realistic, and more importantly, fair protocol.

The CCAA’s policy for transgender student-athlete participation in college sports has arrived just as Ontario’s government voted to include ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ in the province’s Human Rights Code. The change was implemented specifically to extend the Code’s protections to transgender individuals and make discrimination on these two bases a violation of the Code. Notably, all three political parties voted to update the Code. Also noteworthy is that the vast majority of NSOs and MSOs have head offices and administrative operations in Ontario, placing them squarely within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Code and its new amendments.

Earlier this year, I assisted the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) with two situations of transgender athlete participation in clubs within the OSA. After some education and discussion, the OSA was equipped with the tools to handle these new issues and, at the same time, passed their own policy revisions to enable transgender individuals to participate in OSA programs. A curious aspect of this development was that I distinctly recall advising their board of directors that this issue was coming and they might want to think about it … and their response five years ago was one of incredulity. Now they are leading the way among provincial sport bodies with a sensible, workable, and fair policy.

There are several resources on this web site for organizations looking for more background on this subject:

Recently, I have been invited to work with a small committee representing public and separate school boards in Niagara and the regional secondary schools association (NRHSAA) to advise them on eligibility policies for transgender high school students who want to participate on sport teams. Ultimately our work here might make its way up to OFSSA, thus affecting high school student-athletes all across Ontario.

I would encourage all sport organizations to begin thinking about transgender athletes and how your existing rules might (or might not!) accommodate their participation. Please feel free to contact me for further information.

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