New NAIA Policy Limits Women's Sports Participation to Biological Females

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The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics on Monday unveiled a new policy that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports at its 241 member schools.

As reported by The Associated Press, the NAIA Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote at its annual convention in Kansas City, Mo. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes competing in more than 25 sports at mostly small colleges, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step, the AP's Eric Olson reported.

According to the transgender participation policy, which goes into effect in August, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women’s sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in intercollegiate competition.

According to Olson's report, NAIA programs in competitive cheer and competitive dance are open to all students. The NAIA policy notes every other sport “includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes.”

NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr said in an interview with The Associated Press he understands the policy will generate controversy but that it was deemed best for member schools for competitive reasons.

"We know there are a lot of opinions, and a lot of people have a very emotional reaction to this, and we want to be respectful of all that," Carr said. "But we feel like our primary responsibility is fairness in competition, so we are following that path. And we've tried as best we could to allow for some participation by all."

The NAIA's 2023-24 policy did not bar transgender and nonbinary athletes from competing in the division of their choice in the regular season, the AP reported. In the postseason, and with some exceptions for those who have had hormone therapy, athletes had to compete in the division of their birth sex.

Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, said her organization was outraged by the NAIA policy.

"This is unacceptable and blatant discrimination that not only harms trans, nonbinary and intersex individuals, but limits the potential of all athletes," Patel said in a statement. "It's important to recognize that these discriminatory policies don't enhance fairness in competition. Instead, they send a message of exclusion and reinforce dangerous stereotypes that harm all women."

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

According to the AP, at least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions.

The NAIA Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote at its annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes competing in more than 25 sports, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, which goes into effect in August, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women’s sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in intercollegiate competition.

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