Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Baraboo school district rightly adopts WIAA policy for transgender student athletes

Granting students equal access to sports activities the right move to make; qualms against the policy are based on unwarranted fears

The Baraboo school district has agreed to adhere to Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) standards allowing transgender students to participate in sporting activities that correspond with their gender identities.

The move by the district to accept the policy standards (PDF) is the right one to make. Students deserve equal opportunity to participate in sporting events that public schools may offer. Preventing students from participating in sports that correspond to their gender identities would be a grave mistake, and one that would devalue or demoralize any student who may identify with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth.

Parents in Baraboo (and across the nation) have been primarily concerned with students committing fraud through this policy (for example, boys who say they identify as females only to have advantages over other competitors). But that fear runs counter to the policy set up by WIAA, which requires evidence that these student athletes are indeed identifying with the gender they say they are.

Among the stringent standards is a requirement, in writing, from the students themselves as well as their parent or guardian, that they identify as a gender “that differs from societal expectations based on gender assigned at birth.” Students must also demonstrate that they are actively pursuing a transition in gender identity, including “written verification from an appropriate health‐care professional (physician, psychologist).”

Several individuals spoke out in favor of the change in Baraboo on Monday night, including Wisconsin’s 2014 Teacher of the Year winner Jane McMahon:
“I have always been proud to be a Thunderbird,” said the 26-year district veteran, adding that she believes Baraboo schools have long made an effort to strive for excellence and equity.

“This policy is about kids, the kids of Baraboo,” McMahon said. “It’s our job and our responsibility to ensure their safety, a quality education and equitable access to school resources. Please support this policy.”
But opponents of the policy also made their voices heard (emphasis in bold added):
Former school board member Scott Frostman, who has been a vocal opponent of the policy over the past few weeks, urged the board to reject it, as he feels students would be asked “specifically and directly” to abandon and ignore their values as a result.

Frostman said he believes the board is being “bullied” by entities that advocate for such policies.


The Rev. Derick Bacon, pastor of West Baraboo Church of God, and parent of two children in the district, said he is concerned about what the policy might mean for his daughter, who has autism. He said he would fear for her safety in bathrooms and locker rooms should transgender students be using the same facilities.

“My desire is for the board not to adopt this policy,” he said.

“Amen,” came one voice from the crowd.
Though the voices opposing the policy change are certainly welcome to hold the opinions they do -- whether for religious or other reasonings -- accepting students for who they are is the right move to head in for the district, and for the state overall.

Calling the promotion of the policy a “bullying” tactic is absurd on its face. There is likely no group of kids who receive more verbal abuse or threats of violence, oftentimes legitimate, from their peers than transgender students. According to PLFAG “nearly a fifth of students are physically assaulted” due to their sexual orientation, while over a tenth are assaulted “because of their gender expression.”

Fears about “locker room shenanigans” are similarly displaced. These are students who identify as the same gender as other students in the locker rooms they'll be in. To do what critics say they’ll do, they would have to fool their parents, the school district, and their doctors in order to “get away” with it. Oh, and take hormonal supplements or suppressants...which every teenager is just begging to do.

The fears of including trans students in sporting activities at schools are way overblown. We're overlooking the simplicity of the situation -- these are students, and they deserve equal access to participate in sports in their schools. The WIAA policies are reasonable, and Baraboo made the right decision in adopting them.

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