The Virginia High School League, which oversees athletics across Virginia’s 313 public high schools, has approved a new policy that claims to let transgender students play on the team they identify with. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly unlikely that any student will ever actually qualify to participate, and those who do will have to make a significant sacrifice.
According to the policy, the only trans students who count as trans are those who have “undergone sex reassignment,” which means “surgical anatomical changes” including “external genitalia changes and gonadectomy” (removal of testes or ovaries). Otherwise, “a student-athlete will compete in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment.” And Virginia only grants birth certificate changes to individuals whose sex “has been changed by medical procedure.”
It is unlikely — if not impossible — that any student would ever qualify for this. That’s because most doctors who assist individuals with physical transitions follow the Standards of Care outlined by The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. According to those standards, genital surgery should not be made available to minors:
Genital surgery should not be carried out until (i) patients reach the legal age of majority to give consent for medical procedures in a given country, and (ii) patients have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity. The age threshold should be seen as a minimum criterion and not an indication in and of itself for active intervention.
The age of majority in Virginia is 18, which means that 18 is the youngest age that any Virginia student could obtain sex reassignment surgery, at least from a licensed professional surgeon.
Moreover, most trans people do not actually pursue surgical options. One of the reasons for this is financial, as surgery can be incredibly costly. Others simply decide that they do not need to change their bodies in that way to realize their gender identity. They may also want to preserve their reproductive ability, which is permanently lost with the surgery.
Though claiming to do the opposite, Virginia has effectively banned transgender students from participating in athletics. In addition to subjecting them to harassment if they choose to play on the team they do not identify with, the policy will also deprive them of the academic benefits associated with participation in athletics. Trans students in Virginia schools experience alarming rates of harassment (74 percent), physical assault (35 percent), and sexual violence (23 percent).