Virginia’s policy on trans youth athletes softens, but struggles still exist
Earlier this week, the state wide organization governing public high school athletics in Virginia rolled back regulations on transgender students which were called the most restrictive in the country.
A 25 member panel from the Virginia High School League (VHSL), made up of school principals and sports directors, voted unanimously to approve a new policy which allows for student athletes to play for teams corresponding with their gender identity.
The new policy is not without its difficulties, but it is being called a vast improvement over the previous policy which was approved in February of this year.
Previously, the VHSL required student athletes to undergo sexual reassignment surgery in order to play for the gendered team they identified with. This was the policy because the state of Virginia only allows for gender on a birth certificate to be altered if the individual’s sex “has been changed by medical procedure.”
This policy proved to be uniquely limiting because medical professionals, according to the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, require an individual to be at least 18-years-old before undergoing gender reassignment surgery. The new policy nixes this requirement but is still not without its own difficulties.
In order to play for a team a individual identifies with they must be confirmed to have displayed “a consistent identity different than the gender listed on the student’s official birth certificate,” which must be confirmed via a multi-step process.
First the student must write a statement affirming their gender identity along with a few written statements from their parents, teachers or peers, backing up their own written statement. In addition the student must also provide any documentation of medical procedures, medication, another written statement, this one from a healthcare professional, and any other documentation which could prove relevant.
After these documents have been collected and presented to the principal, the principal must then add the student’s school registration information along with their own statement confirming that the student’s gender identity “is bona fide and not for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage in competitive athletics.”
Finally the documents arrive at a three person District Committee who must review the materials.
The members of the of these “District Committees” come from the VHSL district which differs from the school district and can contain members from different schools. Presumably this is done to prevent one school district from misusing the policy.
The Committee will reach a decision within a day and provide a recommendation of eligibility for the student based on their decision. If approved the student immediately becomes eligible to participate, something they are not allowed to do before approval. Students are not even allowed to practice before being approved.
Although lengthy and more than a little intimidating, this policy is a huge step forward for trans athletes, a surprisingly quick step too, seeing as the previous policy was just put into effect roughly 10 months ago.
As Mike McCall, a communications specialist for the VHSL, stated about the old policy back in February, “If we’re getting criticized it means we’re in the right arena, we’re trying to make a change, we’re trying to make a difference in these transgender students lives… we might not have gone far enough, but we’ll get there.”
Tyler Hammel is a college student who has an unhealthy obsession with comic books. He’s a proud cinephile, owning a sizable film collection that lets you know he doesn't have any friends. An aspiring filmmaker, Tyler currently works with the VCU student organization The Horn RVA, a group of like-minded video journalists with a passion for Richmond based music. When not crafting his own bio Tyler can be found misusing commas,
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