Transgender athletes competing in women’s and girls’ sports became an even hotter issue in 2023, coming off a year when Lia Thomas won an NCAA Championship in women’s swimming.
Debate raged online and beyond about whether it was fair to allow transgender females to compete against athletes of the same gender they identify as. Whether it was in high school, college or the pros, the discourse was fervent.
The controversy was far from over this year.
In April, the Biden administration rolled out new Title IX regulations to expand the meaning of sexual discrimination to include gender identity that would prevent schools and colleges from banning transgender athletes.
Under the department’s proposed rule, no school or college that receives federal funding would be allowed to impose a “one-size-fits-all” policy that categorically bans transgender students from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. Such policies would be considered a violation of Title IX.
The proposal garnered pushback from more than two dozen groups at the time. A letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona organized by the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies, a diverse coalition of lawyers, subject-matter experts, parents, civil rights groups and former education officials, said the Biden administration’s additional anticipated regulations will “unfairly” penalize female athletes.
In March, World Athletics announced its decision to exclude transgender female athletes who have been through male puberty from world rankings competitions.
The international governing body for track and field and other running-related athletic events said its decision would have no consequences for athletes right now because there are no transgender athletes competing internationally.
“World Athletics conducted a consultation period with various stakeholders in the first two months of this year, including Member Federations, the Global Athletics Coaches Academy and Athletes’ Commission, the IOC as well as representative transgender and human rights groups,” the organization said.
“It became apparent that there was little support within the sport for the option that was first presented to stakeholders, which required transgender athletes to maintain their testosterone levels below 2.5nmol/L for 24 months to be eligible to compete internationally in the female category.”
“In terms of DSD [Differences of Sexual Development] regulations, World Athletics has more than 10 years of research and evidence of the physical advantages that these athletes bring to the female category.
“However, there are currently no transgender athletes competing internationally in athletics and consequently no athletics-specific evidence of the impact these athletes would have on the fairness of female competition in athletics.
“In these circumstances, the Council decided to prioritize fairness and the integrity of the female competition before inclusion.”
In July, World Aquatics announced it would launch an “open category” for transgender swimmers to compete in more than a year after a new policy effectively banned trans women from competing in women’s events.
The new race was set to debut in Germany in October, but it was dropped with the organization citing “zero” entries.
Despite the lack of interest, World Aquatics said they would continue to work on providing open category events in the future.
“The World Aquatics Open Category Working Group will continue its work and engagement with the aquatics community on Open Category events. Even if there is no current demand at the elite level, the working group is planning to look at the possibility of including Open Category races at Masters events in the future,” they added.
U.S. soccer stars Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe both came out in support of trans participation in girls’ and women’s sports over the course of the year.
Sauerbrunn wrote an op-ed in February, slamming a Missouri bill that would bar transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. The 37-year-old center back wrote she can “assure you that playing with or against transgender women and girls is not a threat to women’s sports.”
Rapinoe said she would support a trans woman on the U.S. women’s national team roster.
“Absolutely,” she told Time in July. “‘You’re taking a ‘real’ woman’s place,’ that’s the part of the argument that’s still extremely transphobic. I see trans women as real women. What you’re saying automatically in the argument—you’re sort of telling on yourself already—is you don’t believe these people are women. Therefore, they’re taking the other spot. I don’t feel that way.”
Oberlin College women’s lacrosse head coach Kim Russell broke her silence about transgender inclusion in women’s sports in a documentary for the Independent Women’s Forum.
The issue stemmed from Russell reposting a headline sarcastically congratulating then-Virginia swim star Emma Weyant for the victory over Thomas, a transgender female. Russell wrote in the post, “What do you believe? I can’t be quiet on this… I’ve spent my life playing sports, starting & coaching sports programs for girls & women..”
Russell said she was ridiculed by her colleagues and players over the issue. She finished up the 2023 season but is no longer the current coach at the school.
A transgender swimmer at Ramapo College of New Jersey broke a women’s school record last month after competing for the men’s team for three years.
Meghan Cortez-Fields won first place and broke a school record in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 57.22 at the Cougar Splash Invitational, a two-day meet between six schools in Dallas, Pennsylvania. She also came in first place in the 200-yard individual medley and earned second place in the 200-yard butterfly.
Cortez-Fields swam on Ramapo’s men’s team for three years before moving to the women’s team this season as a senior. Last year, she told The Ramapo News she admired Lia Thomas, the trans University of Pennsylvania swimmer who won an NCAA Championship in 2022.
Fox News’ Andrew Mark Miller and Teny Sahakian contributed to this report.