Central Bucks school board proposes policy that targets trans athletes

Athletics people running on the track field. Sunny day
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

The board of Central Bucks School District (CBSD) plans to vote on a policy that would prohibit trans students from participating in school sports that correspond to their gender identity. The policy, titled “Sex-based Distinctions in Athletics,” proposes that students be permitted only to play sports on teams according to their biological sex, which is defined as “the biological distinction between male and female based on reproductive biology and genetic makeup.” 

The policy states that sports teams will not be segregated based on irrelevant classifications, which include race and religion, but also gender identity. 

In an Aug. 9 policy committee meeting, policy supporters did not reference specific concerns related to trans students playing sports in the district, The Inquirer reported. The supporting board members said that they were being proactive about the issue. 

Both supporters and critics of the policy on the CBSD school board did not respond to a request for comment.

The Republican-led CBSD school board has a history of introducing policies that have been widely considered discriminatory toward LGBTQ+ students, such as a ban on Pride flags in classrooms and challenges to books with “sexualized content,” many of which have LGBTQ+ themes. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed multiple federal complaints against CBSD for undermining the rights of LGBTQ+ students. 

PGN previously reported that in a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education in 2022, CBSD students claimed a “widespread culture of discrimination against LGBQ&T students, particularly transgender and nonbinary students.”

LGBTQ+ community leaders, advocates and allies in Philly and nearby areas criticized the proposed policy, saying that it discriminates against transgender students. 

“This proposed policy completely invalidates the lived experience of trans and non-binary students,” Jasper Liem, executive director of The Attic Youth Center, said in an email. 

“CBSD has been spending over $1,000,000 to push discriminatory policies, which are anti-LGBTQ and fiscally irresponsible. This policy ignores the very real, positive social impact of team sports across all gender identities and segregates trans students by forcing them to choose between their identity and social inclusion at a pivotal point in their development.”

The CBSD athletic policy also dictates that when a student is enrolled in school or is registered to play school sports, a parent or guardian will indicate the student’s sex for school records, a permanent designation unless the superintendent or athletic director “has reasonable cause to believe that the student’s sex is other than designated,” the policy states. The superintendent or athletic director can also request that the student provide their original birth certificate to verify the sex that is printed on it. If a student’s gender identity differs from their designated sex, the student in question or their parent may inform district officials, and the district will keep a confidential record of that information.

“Trans youth [deserve the same] social experiences that other youth deserve,” said Cheryl Masterman, who just finished a run as co-president of the Lower Merion School District Interschool Council, and co-founded the Gender Awareness and Inclusion Network, a group of parents who work for the safety and equality of trans and gender-nonconforming youth. 

The Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People shows that 41% of 28,000 respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Approximately half of trans and nonbinary youth found their school to be affirming of their gender, and those who did experienced lower rates of attempting suicide. 

“But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when fully inclusive athletic policies are in place, transgender students are 14% less likely to consider suicide,” Masterman added. “This policy would literally endanger the lives of transgender youth.”

Masterman went on to state that no evidence exists that trans female athletes have an advantage over cisgender female athletes. Trans athletes have been eligible to compete in Olympic games for almost two decades.

“When transgender females are afforded the proper medical care as put forth by the American Pediatric Association prior to puberty, there often is no physical difference between them and cisgender females,” Masterman said. “Up until puberty, there is very little difference physically between cisgender males and cisgender females. Creating policies that require birth certificates cause real harm to transgender youth who are not obvious to the general public and are not out but living very normal, successfully adjusted lives.”

In the School District of Philadelphia, two policies dictate that trans and nonbinary students are allowed to play on sports teams that align with their gender. The district’s policy 252 is dedicated to the protection of transgender and gender nonconforming students, policy 123 addresses trans and nonbinary students and participation in sports. 

“​​Our policy is and will remain that our student athletes may participate on the team of the gender they identify with,” said Monique Braxton, deputy chief of communications for the School District of Philadelphia. 

Twenty-two U.S. states have laws barring trans students from playing on school sports teams that fit with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Temporary injunctions are halting enforcement of the bans in Arizona, Idaho, West Virginia and Utah. 

“The issue of trans students playing school sports has been made out to be about elite competition, as though everyone’s going to get a gold medal at the Olympics,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The overwhelming majority of kids are just trying to play volleyball with their friends; they’re just trying to get healthy and play on a team like anyone else.”

Many school districts, including the School District of Philadelphia, have successfully put forth policies that allow trans students to play on sports teams that match up with their gender identity, Heng-Lehtinen pointed out. He cited the Women’s Sports Foundation as a major athletic entity that supports trans women and girls playing on the sports teams that fit with their gender identity. 

“A lot of these leading institutions whose whole job it is to preserve a level playing field have looked into this and concluded that it’s perfectly safe and fair for trans women and girls to be part of these women and girls teams,” Heng-Lehtinen said. 

“You do see that there is an issue when you try to pass these bans on them participating because it sends the message that there’s something wrong with being trans. [These bills] essentially openly question the validity of a trans kid’s experience and freedom and dignity. It really does have these devastating mental health effects that hurt these kids, even when the kid isn’t interested in sports. If the kid is trans, they still feel like they have a target on their back because they know that this is more about anti-trans animus than it is about sports.”

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