Transgender youths should be allowed to compete in women’s sports at school and college level to protect their health, physicians say.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, said participating in sports had many benefits, including boosting mental health, self-esteem and lowering the risk of obesity and chronic diseases.
They advocated for trans people to be allowed to compete in their desired gender category at elementary, middle, high school and college. But they admitted competitive sports were a different matter because participants had invested their whole careers in the game.
They warned that a wave of 22 bans on transgender athletes at schools and colleges was harming the mental and physical health of the group and discouraging them from competing in sports.
In an interview, lead author and sports medicine expert Dr Alexander Sin said: ‘Does it matter who gets a medal at a third-grade competition?’
Researchers at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, said participating in sports had many benefits including boosting mental health, self-esteem and lowering the risk of chronic diseases (stock image). Pictured above is Lia Thomas, center, Iszak Henig, left, and Nikki Venema after Ms Thomas won the 100-yard freestyle at the Ivy League women’s swimming and diving championships in February last year
Tara Seplavy, center, pictured atop the podium after winning a cycling race in Pennsylvania. Maya Brothers, who came second, wasn’t bothered by losing to a trans woman. But third place competitor Jaqueline Paull, right, appears to have been miffed
About 300,000 13 to 17-year-olds in the US are transgender, estimates suggest, equivalent to 1.7 percent of the high school population. Of these, roughly half are biological men who identify as women.
Writing in an opinion piece for JAMA Pediatrics, researchers urged for transgender youth participation in sports as well as the ability to compete.
They said primary care sports medicine physicians, pediatricians and families should take an ‘active role’ in promoting this.
The research team was from Vanderbilt University, which is currently under fire for allegedly sharing the health records of transgender adults with the state without removing their identities. A federal investigation has been launched, with some of those affected alleging that the state had requested the information in an effort to ‘negatively target the transgender community’.
One researcher was also from the University of Rochester, New York, which has also attracted controversy for offering a ‘gender-affirming’ care course for teachers who have students as young as five years old. It has been accused of training staff at local schools in ‘transgender ideology’.
Asked whether trans women have an advantage over biological women in an interview with STAT News, Dr Sin said: ‘[Some research has found that] trans women are superior to cis women because of certain strengths and speed measures.
‘But the problem with this is that it doesn’t translate to sports performance.
‘It’s not like you squat more and that translates to you jumping higher, or you can do a heavier bench press, so you can throw things further.
‘There are also techniques and other parts that play into it, because otherwise the strongest person would just win all the medals, and that’s not true.’
Society is divided over whether transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports.
When Lia Thomas became the first openly transgender athlete to win the women’s 500-yard freestyle in March 2022, however, the issue was blown wide open. She was 1.75 seconds faster than Olympic Silver medallist Emma Weyant.
Some individuals — including some doctors — suggest transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in the spirit of supporting the group, adding that any advantage they have is removed or minimized by hormone therapies.
This also applies to children above the ages of eight to 13 years, who will have gone through puberty when the body takes on the characteristics of its biological sex.
It is not clear whether children who start therapy before or during puberty retain the same advantages.
But studies are now starting to mount which suggest that even a decade after starting hormone therapy, transgender female athletes retain an advantage.
A 2021 paper from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found transgender women were still 12 percent faster than their biological counterparts two years after beginning feminizing hormone therapy.
They also found transgender men were 15 percent slower and were able to do 43 percent fewer push-ups than biological rivals.
The paper involved 29 transgender men and 46 transgender women who completed fitness tests for the Air Force.
Another study published late last year found they were still stronger than biological women even after a decade on hormones.
The above map shows states that have enacted policies prohibiting transgender women from competing in women’s sports at the school level
A review published in August 2022 also suggested that transgender women had a biological advantage over their peers.
It concluded: ‘Given that sports are currently segregated into male and female divisions because of superior male athletic performance, and that estrogen therapy will not reverse most athletic performance parameters, it follows that transgender women will enter the female division with an inherent advantage because of their prior male physiology.’
Many states are starting to clamp down on access to women’s sports for transgender youths.
A total of 22 states have now brought in legislation banning transgender youths from participating in sports.
At the state athletic association level, seven statewide athletic associations have also banned transgender sports participation either by limiting participation based on sex assigned at birth or by mandating gender reassignment surgery in states where the surgery is unavailable for minors.
Sports participation offers many benefits to youths for enhancing their physical health while helping to build friendships with their peers.