Monday, January 19, 2015

College Rec Sports Has New Policy of Transgender Inclusion

The National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) has announced a new policy of inclusion for transgender athletes, which will take effect this spring. NIRSA governs a series of regional and national "extramural" championships for college students in a variety of men's, women's, and coed sports.

The policy allows encourages transgender athletes to self-identify as male or female for purposes of participation:
NIRSA recognizes and celebrates the transgender student population among their tournament participants. Through the guiding policies of the NIRSA Championship Series tournaments, NIRSA empowers students to participate in intramural sports and sport club divisions based on their expressed gender identity.
The policy does not require the participant to undergo hormone treatments, sex reassignment surgery, or any kind of legal process in order to participate consistently with one's gender.  In this way, the policy distinguishes itself from the NCAA's policy for its championships in women's sports, which requires transgender female athletes to undergo hormone treatment for a year prior to competing. With an increasing number of high school athletic associations adopting or considering NCAA-type policies, NIRSA's policy serves as an example that more inclusive policies are possible and more appropriate for sport organizations that are striving to maximize athletic participation.  On its website, NIRSA acknowledges that the new policy will not "noticeably impact the experience of the majority of tournament participant organizers and participants." Yet, it underscores the value of its efforts "if these changes make participation more inviting and inclusive for even one more individual."  

Another thing I like about this policy is that it imposes no additional burdens on transgender athletes, in contrast to some high school athletic association policies that allow gender-identity based participation only after a committee of sorts has investigated and affirmed the student's gender.  NIRSA's policy simply requires that the campus official who signs off on the team's roster should include transgender athletes as participants on a single-sex team, or denote their sex for purposes of a coed sport that specifies a particular ratio of men:women, based on that player's good faith representation of their gender identity. The policy specifically instructs the campus official not to designate the player according to the sex listed on the player's school records if that designation is in conflict with the player's affirmed gender identity. And it provides a work-around for any player who is not comfortable discussing their gender identity with that particular campus official.

The policy also affirms that "for many, coming to know one’s gender identity is not something that happens in an instant; it is a complex process that can occur over an extended period of time." This language appropriately preempts any requirement that a player consistently identify as a single gender over the course of their time in college.  The policy is also sensitive to issues of confidentiality ("Under no circumstances should a student-athlete’s identity as a transgender person be disclosed without the student’s express permission"). 

Along with announcing a new policy for participation, NIRSA has updated its code of conduct, which already prohibits "verbal or non-verbal profanity, disrespectful language, and obscene gestures or behavior" to also ban "bullying" and "homophobic and transphobic expressions of any kind." And, it  includes a set clear and straightforward "best practices" for facilities:
Transgender student-athletes should be able to use the locker room, shower, and toilet facilities in accordance with the student’s gender identity. Every locker room should have some private, enclosed changing areas, showers, and toilets for use by any athlete who desires them. When requested by a transgender student-athlete, schools should provide private, separate changing, showering, and toilet facilities for the student’s use,but transgender students should not be required to use separate facilities.
The policy stops short of requiring such facilities as a condition for hosting a NIRSA-governed competition, but it does require host institutions who do not meet this standard to "work with NIRSA to make comparable accommodations."  Ideally, this language will encourage institutions that are not already thinking about incorporating principals of universal design into their facilities and locker rooms to begin to do so.