Transgender rights in Texas took another step backward last month, when public school superintendents voted 586-32 in favor of a rule that requires schools to use birth certificates to determine the gender of student-athletes.
This law is seen not only as “an attempt to handicap transgender student-athletes’ eligibility,” but it’s also believed to be a clear violation of Title IX.
“The Department of Education has stated that Title IX covers trans students and prohibits discrimination based on gender. Not only is [this policy] not in line with the law, but it also runs counter to the recommended policies by the National Center for Lesbian Rights,” Neena Chaudhry, the Senior Counsel and Director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics at the National Women’s Law Center, told ThinkProgress. “The recommendation is that children will be able to play on a team consistent with gender identity.”
With this ruling, Texas has become one of the least-inclusive states for transgender athletes.
— The Chris Mosier (@TheChrisMosier) February 26, 2016
Using students’ birth certificates, rather than their gender identities, to place them on a team has been an informal policy in Texas for some time. But in October, the University Interscholastic League — the governing body of Texas high-school sports — decided to send the policy to the superintendents for a vote. The results of that vote, which took place in January, were released by the Texas Observer last week. It will be officially enacted on August 1.
“Gender shall be determined based on a student’s birth certificate,” the rule states. “In cases where a student’s birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be submitted.”
This policy makes it nearly impossible for trans athletes in Texas to compete in high school sports, because it is incredibly difficult for teens to get their gender changed on their birth certificates. In many cases, it involves gender-reassignment surgery, which often isn’t even legally an option until after the age of 18; other times, getting an official gender change requires a court order, which is a complicated, time-consuming process that costs a lot of money.
“[This policy] forces students to negotiate their own gender identity in a way that stalls their ability to be their authentic selves, and is a barrier to inclusion,” Chris Mosier, the founder of TransAthlete.com, wrote on his website. “Texas is denying transgender youth the opportunity to connect with others, enjoy competitiveness and the benefits of physical activity, and have a high school experience similar to their peers.”
In 2014, the Department of Education (DOE) clarified that Title IX nondiscrimination protections did extend to transgender student-athletes. Christina Kahrl of ESPN reports that Texas is budget to receive $3.2 billion from the DOE in 2016 and 2017; that money could be lost if they are found in violation of Title IX. ThinkProgress reached out to the DOE for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.
“The goal of Title IX is to have an environment free of discrimination, so schools need to remember that and make sure they’re not discriminating against any of their students,” Chaudhry said.
Texas does not have a good record when it comes to LGBT rights. Last year, Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) introduced two new bills that sought to criminalize the use of bathrooms by transgender people. In November, transphobia was the root cause of the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which would have provided nondiscrimination protections to the LGBT community and other groups.
But the Lone Star State is far from alone when it comes to anti-trans policies — if the governor doesn’t veto it tomorrow, South Dakota will become the first state with a law that actively discriminates against transgender people.