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NCAA takes a stand for inclusion as states target trans student-athletes: Is it enough?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association tells Outsports it is monitoring efforts by Montana and other states aimed at restricting transgender student-athletes.

NCAA HQ
The entrance to the NCAA’s headquarters.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s a new month, and more state legislatures are lining up to bar transgender girls from competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

As of today, Texas is the latest of at least 12 states taking aim at trans student-athletes, with more to come, specifically targeting college athletes.

Out athlete Chris Mosier has been one of the chief advocates leading the charge against these bills on social media.

At our request, the NCAA issued a statement clarifying its position on these transphobic bills, beginning with Montana’s proposed legislation that would bar all trans student-athletes from competing except according to their gender assigned at birth. That bill passed the state House of Representatives on Jan. 27 and is now being considered by a state senate committee.

Outsports asked the athletic organization on Jan. 25 about the bill, HB 112.

Here is the NCAA’s response, received via email late Friday:

“The NCAA is aware of Montana’s HB 112 and continues to closely monitor this bill, as well as other state bills and federal guidelines that impact transgender student-athlete participation.

“The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport.

“The Association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion.

“The NCAA believes diversity and inclusion improve the learning environment and it encourages its member colleges and universities to support the well-being of all student-athletes.”

This statement pales in comparison to the sharp rebuke the NCAA issued in 2016 when North Carolina enacted the so-called “bathroom bill,” HB 2, which removed anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and banned trans people from using any bathrooms in public facilities that didn’t match the sex they were presumed to be at birth.

Back then, the NCAA responded by moving the All-Star game and tournaments out of the state. Unfortunately, the association relented six months later, when N.C. lawmakers replaced HB 2 with a different bill. This one fell far short of a complete repeal, and at the time, our Cyd Zeigler called out the NCAA as “a fraud on LGBT inclusion.”

Based on how the NCAA’s latest statement was phrased, it may be time for another call-out.

Consider: In June 2020, the NCAA condemned Idaho’s new law banning trans student-athletes, HB 500, calling it “harmful to transgender student-athletes and conflicts with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals.” Advocates for trans inclusion called on the NCAA to move its college basketball tournament scheduled to be played in Boise in March 2021 out of state, and it was under consideration.

More than 300 women athletes wrote to the NCAA last summer in support of the law, but did not sway anyone other than the usual transphobic lawmakers. Because of Covid-19, the NCAA wound-up moving all March Madness games to a single venue, and not in Idaho.

A federal judge put HB 500 on hold in August 2020, granting lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union an injunction. That case remains unresolved.

Following an NCAA gender identity summit in November 2020, at which Outsports reported the stories of out transgender athletes had won over some hearts and minds, the NCAA governors repeated their strong stance against HB 500, stating: “the law is harmful to transgender student-athletes and is counter to the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and equitable treatment of all individuals.”

Compare those examples of firm support for trans student-athletes to this latest statement, promising to “closely monitor” HB 112, and there is a notable difference; a lack of teeth in the wording this time around. One former NCAA athlete offered his view:

“The NCAA must do more than just monitoring the situation. As the leading collegiate athletic association in the nation, the NCAA must commit itself to the diversity and inclusion of college athletes by condemning legislation that would do harm to a portion of its athletes,” said rugby player, former NCAA wrestler and LGBTQ trailblazer Justice Horn.

“As a cisgender athlete and the NCAA’s first openly gay multicultural wrestler, I call on all LGBTQIA+ athletes and our straight allies to stand against this legislation of hate. I call on the NCAA to not only monitor the situation, but condemn Montana’s HB 112. The NCAA should not be doing business, promoting, and holding NCAA championships with states who’s elected leaders pass legislation that targets the many disenfranchised athletes who competes in the NCAA.”