Three states with legislation banning transgender athletes from interscholastic competition have been named by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as hosts for the upcoming postseason softball tournament.
The decision has angered a number of advocacy groups and appears to have rebutted statements made last month by the NCAA governance body suggesting that the future hosting of postseason events may be impacted by such legislation coming into force.
The announcement comes during a time when the participation of transgender athletes has become a significant political debate regarding the inclusivity and discrimination of gender identity or sexual orientation across the US.
"Selecting championship sites in states with discriminatory policies directly contradicts the NCAA's stated commitment to providing environments that are safe, healthy, and free of discrimination," said race walker and triathlete Chris Mosier, who is the first known transgender athlete to compete in the US Olympic Trials in the gender they identify.
"The NCAA's lack of action in remaining silent as these bills were being discussed was a passive offense to transgender student-athletes, but this is an actual attack — the NCAA is saying, clearly, 'We do not care about our transgender student-athletes.'"
Last month, the NCAA Board of Governors issued a statement saying it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports."
“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," the Board of Governors said.
"We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
The decision to pursue events in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee has angered national and local advocacy groups, who have since called on the NCAA to take a more forceful stand against transgender discrimination.
"Policies don’t mean much unless people are willing to enforce them," said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "If the NCAA wants to be seen as a real leader in the sports anti-discrimination and athlete-wellness space, they need to take clear actions to back up their statements on trans inclusion."
As legislation banning transgender athletes in many states increases, concern is beginning to mount amongst current student-athletes. A group of over 500 athletes sent NCAA president Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors a letter in March saying it was "extremely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of action taken by the NCAA to recognise the dangers of hosting events in states that create a hostile environment for student-athletes."
Author: Jake Wilkin