The debate over males playing on female sports teams as transgender athletes is growing louder and sometimes more confusing. Now many states are weighing in to propose or pass a rapid fire of laws on the topic. Lisa Fletcher has the latest.
Linnea Saltz, in the red shorts and white jersey, was a lightning bolt of a runner on her women’s college track team.
Linnea Saltz: I ran collegiate track for four years at Southern Utah University. I like to think that I was a good competitor. I broke eight school records at my university and I ended up leaving, I think, a pretty good legacy for myself.
For all of her accomplishments, Saltz still wrestles with a loss at a 2020 championship race.
In the final leg of the relay, her teammates ran against a competitor, the likes of which few in college sports had previously encountered.
For three seasons, before facing Saltz and her teammates, Jonathan Eastwood ran for the University of Montana men’s team. By 2020, he had transitioned to June Eastwood and was running for the women’s team.
Saltz: What I experienced, that was an unfair situation. I ended up losing, and my team ended up losing to this individual.
There have been numerous cases where elite female athletes have lost to men who’ve transitioned to a female identity. In mixed martial arts, female fighter Ericka Newsome, on the right, faced transgender fighter Fallon Fox on the left. Fox knocked out Newsome in less than 40 seconds. Fox later pushed back on any notion the fight was unfair in this CNN interview.
Fallon Fox (CNN, March 9, 2023): I say that it’s completely fair. The medical community stands behind me in that, in that there is no unfair competitive advantages.”
A transgender weightlifter featured in this Vice News documentary, Jaycee Cooper, who used to be Joel, was banned from competing against women. Cooper sued USA Powerlifting and recently won the right to compete. The organization plans to appeal.
In high school athletics, a North Carolina school board canceled the remainder of its girls volleyball games against another school after a biological male, now identifying as female, spiked the ball into a girl’s face.
That injured player, Payton McNabb, spoke about the incident with North Carolina state lawmakers.
Payton McNabb: I suffered from a concussion and neck injury that, to this day, I am still recovering from. Allowing biological males to compete against biological females is dangerous.
And in March, champion women’s cyclist, Hannah Arensman, quit the sport after losing a race to transgender rider Tiffany Thomas.
In a brief to the Supreme Court to show support for keeping women's athletics strictly for biologically-born women, Arensman wrote, “I feel for young girls learning to compete and who are growing up in a day when they no longer have a fair chance at being the new record holders and champions in cycling because men want to be in our divisions.”
States are taking up the issue on their own. Twenty-one passed laws banning transgender girls from playing on girls' teams, including Kansas, where lawmakers overrode multiple vetoes and banned male students between kindergarten and college from playing girls’ sports teams.
And Wyoming, where “students of the male sex” are banned from “competing on a team designated for students of the female sex.”
Meanwhile, a West Virginia law requiring sports team participation from middle school to college to be based on “biological sex” was put on hold by the Supreme Court last month, without explanation.
And with competing bills in the state house and senate, North Carolina could soon become the latest state to ban males from playing on girls sports teams between middle school and college.
Lisa Fletcher: They say there’s an unfair advantage.
Karleigh Webb: People who say that, they're speaking from their transphobia, not from the facts.
As a trans athlete, Karleigh Webb, who now identifies as female, says she’s lived the debate over people born male, playing on women’s teams.
Webb, seen here running for a touchdown, is also a journalist with Outsports. She met with us after playing the season opener for Connecticut's all women’s tackle football team, the Reapers.
Lisa Fletcher: Is there a physical gap, though, between women and trans women in terms of just your strength and your ability?
Karleigh Webb: You can't say that definitively, because everybody is different, and every body is different. When you line up 20 people, for example, look at a team picture of the team I play for. There are many different body types across the spectrum.
The Biden administration has proposed new rules permitting transgender athletes to join school teams of their choice, with exceptions to ensure fairness and prevent injury, the exceptions displeasing transgender advocates.
Former University of Kentucky swimming star Riley Gaines has been outspoken about protecting women's sports. Lately, she’s been on a college speaking tour, partially propelled by her experience racing Lia Thomas, who competed on the men’s swim team as William at the University of Pennsylvania the first 3 seasons of his college career, before joining the women’s team in 2020 as Lia her senior year, and shattered records.
Riley Gaines: I feel anyone who has gone through male puberty, which again proves my argument is not transphobic, because anyone that has a Y chromosome or has gone through male puberty, it ruins the integrity of sports to allow them to compete with women.
Though the students gathered for her speech at San Francisco State were generally peaceful, the situation outside was heated. Gaines says she was forced to barricade herself in a room before emerging into a hallway of protestors before police could escort her from campus.
Lisa Fletcher: Would having a separate category in athletics for transgendered women solve the problem?
Linnea Saltz: I don't know if the answer to this would be having a separate category. I think that right now we need to look at how we are going to protect women and then figure out how we're going to create inclusive solutions for all.
Sharyl: So what is the Biden administration waiting on? They're just now letting this sit, as far as their own proposal?
Lisa: It seems to be. I mean, the Biden administration has all the power in this, right? And President Biden can push it through the Department of Education and have something in effect as early as kids going back to school this fall. That said, there's been a lot of pushback, and there are court cases which could splinter whatever he tries to do, meaning some of it could go into effect and some of it could work its way through the courts.
Sharyl: And if schools don’t comply with whatever it is the president and the Department of Education wants to do, what happens?
Lisa: They risk losing their federal funding.