Trans-Inclusion in DEIA Is DEIA

Lgbt people with trans-inclusive gender pronouns

As if contending with the COVID-19 crisis and racial inequality is not enough, at least five states this year passed bills limiting the rights of transgender people to participate in sports and receive various forms of health care. This political maneuver follows years of attacks on transgender rights, which reached a crescendo in 2021 when it became a record year for anti-transgender legislation. Adding a variable to this hideous equation is an unpredicted turn of events that I am sure no one was expecting. California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner announced that banning transgender participation in girls’ sports in school is a matter of fairness (echoing statements made by Republican leaders who are advancing the anti-transgender legislation).

As a gold medal-winning Olympian, Jenner’s statement took me aback. She knows that the continuing value of gender-specific sports has been hotly contested for decades (paywalled). Jenner is less likely to know that some researchers argue that affinity toward gendered sports is cloaked more in societal norms of enhanced male-gendered strength than an actual equality strategy for girls and women. Last year, scholars from Yale University, the University of Virginia, and Loughborough University (UK) raised compelling arguments in favor of shifting toward gender-neutral sports. This shift would mean a calibration in algorithms to determine weight classes, adjust game rules to consider physical size, and develop equipment (where applicable) that truly levels the playing field for all athletes.

Despite this fascinating research, coupled with the remarkable time in history we find ourselves in currently, higher education’s leadership (faculty and administrators) appears to be largely silent on further affirming trans-inclusion. The NCAA’s LGBTQ OneTeam open letter and a warning from the league to move championships out of states with anti-transgender laws are firm and abundantly clear in their positions. The next step in this civil rights battle is for higher education’s leadership to broaden its thinking and approaches to fully incorporate trans-inclusion strategies as DEIA strategies.

For example, the modeling and analysis of researchers examining pathways toward transgender sports equality provides one of the most interesting approaches to the complicated matter of DEIA within sports and beyond. Addressing cultural and systemic barriers to trans-inclusion under the framework of technology-as-solution and infrastructure-as-solution has the potential to be replicated across the DEIA spectrum of opportunities within higher education. Another example is how higher education can assist in deconstructing notions of homonormativity and body politics (both, paywalled)—issues very similar to heteronormativity and obesity discrimination.

There is a saying (frequently attributed to Aristotle yet contested) that states we are greater as a whole than the sum of our parts. If we in higher education are dedicated to DEIA, our efforts and challenges must be as inclusionary as possible. We must continuously strive to push past othering and center our shared goal of justice for all.

*This post is dedicated to the at least 14 transgender or gender non-conforming people violently killed in 2021 and the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were murdered in 2020, several of whom identified as Black women.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.