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NCAA under pressure from LGBTQ orgs to deny championships to trans ban states

The heads of GLAAD and Athlete Ally teamed-up to challenge NCAA governors to “do what’s right” for transgender athletes.

NCAA HQ
NCAA headquarters.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The heads of two of the leading LGBTQ organizations in the nation signed an open letter to the NCAA Monday, days ahead of the anticipated announcement of the DI colleges and universities which will host softball championships. GLAAD and Athlete Ally want the NCAA governors to refuse to hold those preliminary rounds —and possibly super regionals — at six schools in states targeting transgender athletes for discrimination.

In a statement to Outsports, the head of GLAAD said they’re simply asking the NCAA to keep its promise.

”The NCAA promised to only hold championships in locations that are safe and free from discrimination, and it’s disappointing to see them go back on their word,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told Outsports. “We’re tired of waiting for action while trans youth across the country are targeted by hateful state legislation. The NCAA should use their considerable leverage to show that anti-LGBTQ discrimination has consequences. For us, this isn’t a game.”

The NCAA is expected to announce the locations this weekend. Of the seven states that have so far either outlawed or appear ready to ban trans student-athletes, five are potential hosts: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. In addition to Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, three more states — Idaho, Mississippi and West Virginia — already have anti-trans laws on the books; South Dakota has an executive order and Florida and Texas are on the verge of joining the list.

Last month, the NCAA issued its latest “We’re closely monitoring” statement which basically means nothing. The statement was interpreted by some to be a warning to states passing trans bans that they risked losing tournaments, but a spokesperson for the association later told reporters that governors “had made no decision on championships.”

The letter, dated Monday and signed by Ellis and Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally, cites a campaign by an NCAA group of out LGBTQ administrators and coaches to convince the governors to take action, as well as a letter signed by more than 500 athletes, demanding states that discriminate against trans student-athletes not be rewarded with lucrative tournaments.

“Athlete Ally will continue to apply pressure to the NCAA to ensure that the health and well-being of student-athletes remains a priority,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally. “The NCAA has continually reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the safety of transgender student-athletes, and we hope that they will take action to abide by their 2016 anti-discrimination policy.”

So far, no word from the NCAA in response. We’re sure they’re still “closely monitoring.”

The letter from Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, and Hudson Taylor, founder, executive director and member of the board at Athlete Ally, is below.

Dear NCAA,

GLAAD and Athlete Ally are concerned about the NCAA’s recent announcement of 21 schools being considered to host preliminary rounds (and possibly super regionals) for this year’s Division I Softball Championship. Six of the schools on the list are located in states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas) that have passed or are likely to pass discriminatory new laws that restrict transgender athletes from participating fairly in sports. To date, 7 states have passed such laws—blatantly targeting transgender youth despite evidence that transgender athletes have participated in sports for decades without harm to anyone. Florida is poised to become the 8th such state, if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill recently passed by the legislature, and the Texas senate passed its own anti-trans sports ban on Friday. It is disappointing that one-quarter of the schools being considered for this championship are located in states that discriminate.

To host championships in these states would contradict the NCAA’s recent statements suggesting that it would not hold championship events in states with discriminatory anti-trans sports laws. On April 12, the NCAA Board of Governors released a public statement that said “When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.” On April 2, NCAA president Mark Emmert sent a letter to HRC stating opposition to state anti-trans sports bans and committing to only holding championships in locations that do not have discriminatory laws. And on April 5, members of the NCAA’s LGBTQ OneTeam Program penned an open letter calling for an end to the legislation and a repeal of already-passed bans.

In addition to the NCAA’s own stance, college athletes themselves have appealed to the association to adhere to its diversity and inclusion principles by opposing anti-trans sports bans and by using the NCAA’s undeniable economic leverage to help create an athletic environment that is safe for all players. On March 10, GLAAD and Athlete Ally helped 550 college athletes send a letter calling on the NCAA take action in response to the wave of state anti-trans laws.

We understand that the final 16 sites for the DI Softball Championships will be announced this upcoming Sunday, May 16. GLAAD and Athlete Ally hope that the NCAA will do what’s right: refuse to host championship events in states that have passed discriminatory laws unfairly targeting transgender athletes. GLAAD plans to respond publicly to the Division I Softball Championship site list; we welcome the opportunity to speak about this situation and the concerns of LGBTQ athletes, and a response today confirming the NCAA’s stance on hosting championships in the 7 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia) that discriminate against transgender athletes.

Sincerely,

Sarah Kate Ellis

Hudson Taylor

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was edited on May 12, 2021 to add a statement from Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally.