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Porto: Transgender In Sports

Recently, I discovered another reason to love living in Vermont. Our state is one of only eleven that permit transgender high school students to play on sports teams based on the gender they identify with, not the one listed on their birth certificates. Some of these students have completed gender reassignment; others have not done so, but nevertheless identify with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth.

Some states, such as Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, limit high school students to playing on sports teams that reflect their gender assignment at birth. Other states, including New Hampshire, impose that limit unless a student has completed sexual reassignment and the reassignment is legally recognized, such as on the student’s driver’s license.

Vermont has wisely rejected these alternatives in favor of allowing students to make athletic choices based on who they are, not who they were. In so doing, Vermont has properly dismissed the two justifications most frequently offered in defense of basing athletic choices on one’s birth certificate.

According to one such justification, a male who has transitioned to or is transitioning to female could enjoy a considerable height or weight advantage over female opponents. This view ignores the great variation in height, weight, and coordination that exists between high school girls generally. For example, at 6’8”, WNBA star Britney Griner had a great height advantage over her high school opponents, but she was nonetheless permitted to play. A tall transgender female should be permitted to play, too.

The other frequently cited justification for binding transgender athletes to their birth certificates holds that gender is a biological fact, not a social choice. The vehement expression of this view in Minnesota recently has caused that state to delay voting on a new policy regarding transgender athletes. But any woman who has ever given birth to, and any obstetrician who has ever delivered, a genitally ambiguous baby knows that gender is less of a biological certainty than customarily assumed.

Under these circumstances, I’m proud that Vermont has opted for the most inclusive policy possible. I hope New Hampshire will soon follow suit because its rule prevents children from families who cannot afford sexual reassignment surgery from playing on the teams of their choice. Neither a birth certificate nor a bank balance should deprive any child of the chance to play high school sports.