Alaska board of education votes to limit trans girls’ participation in high school sports

Student representative is the only vote against the regulation

By: - August 31, 2023 3:53 pm
An outdoor basketball hoop is seen in Bethel in October 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple)

An outdoor basketball hoop is seen in Bethel in October 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple)

The state’s governor-appointed board of education voted to limit transgender girls’ participation in school sports at a special meeting on Thursday.

The regulation requires the Alaska School Activities Association Inc. to authorize a division limited to students assigned female at birth.

Lorri Van Diest introduced the first non-binding resolution related to the issue in March of this year, and said that it is impossible to balance inclusion with fairness because of the differences in physiology between sexes.

“I will be voting for the regulation amendment because I am part of the group which prioritizes competitive fairness and safety for high school girl athletes,” she said.

She gave a litany of examples of men’s athletic superiority over women.

Student representative Felix Myers disagreed. He said the body was mistakenly discussing the idea of men participating in women’s sports rather than the issue of trans women participating in women’s sports.

Currently, he said, there isn’t a fairness issue in the state that the board needs to fix. Bill Strickland from ASAA confirmed that a fairness issue with transgender students has not yet arisen.

“When it comes back to helping protect girls’ sports, I think there’s a lot more issues that we can address here in Alaska,” Myers said.

I don't think anyone would go through the strain, the bullying, the — all of the problems that come with being around kids when you're different.

– Felix Myers, student advisory member of the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development

He suggested the board look at educating coaches on how to identify eating disorders and the issue of funding parity for travel and equipment if it wants to support girls’ sports.

He rejected the idea that trans girls would join girls sports teams to gain an unfair advantage. “I don’t think anyone would go through the strain, the bullying, the — all of the problems that come with being around kids when you’re different,” he said. “If someone is truly going to go out of their way to identify this way, that is a huge sacrifice and they are the bravest, bravest students among us.”

Public comment on the regulation was “great,” said recently confirmed Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Deena Bishop. Department staff said comments were split fairly evenly on the issue.

After over an hour of board member comments, the board voted 7 to 1 to adopt the regulation. Myers was the only no vote. Board member Lt. Col. James Fowley abstained from the vote. Votes by Myers and Fowley are considered advisory. Members Jeffrey Erickson, Sally Stockhausen, Pamela Dupras, Barbara Tyndall, Lorri Van Diest, Bob Griffin and James Fields voted in favor of the regulation.

Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, has been an outspoken opponent of the regulation. She criticized the board for overstepping its authority because it moved to adopt these changes without any laws to support its decision.

“Removing all the artifice and double speak: any discrimination against a trans or non-binary child violates the foundation of what it means to be building a more perfect union,” she wrote in an email. “What we saw today is national politics, misinformation, and fear getting in the way of building a better future for all Alaskans. I find it appalling and a terribly sad day for the place I call home.”

The board’s decision comes after failed attempts at policy change in the state and against a national backdrop of restrictions on educational discussions of gender identity and bans on transition care for young people. Alaska is the 24th state to adopt a policy that restricts transgender athletes.

Aaron Poe, the father of two high school students, one of whom is trans, said the decision is “profoundly disappointing.”

“The Department of Education that is supposed to be lifting all kids in Alaska up and supporting them and helping them be productive members of their society is essentially doing a backdoor deal to target trans kids,” he said.

He said he’s concerned that the new policy will discriminate against all girls who play sports, not just trans girls.

“What the policy change would do is focus on young women who maybe don’t appear or don’t act feminine enough, therefore making them a target of scrutiny,” he said, pointing to a case in Utah where a young woman’s sex was investigated by school officials after she excelled in sports. “The fact that people are willing to even take that up as an issue or a question, and imagine that school officials are going to police young women’s bodies, is just really disgusting.”

He said the board’s decision does not have popular support in the state.

Bills to limit trans student rights have so far failed to advance in the Legislature. Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed legislation that would have restricted the rights of trans students in public schools and limited access to sex education last year, which failed in committee. Last year, a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from competing in girls sports also failed.

The Board of Education directed the Alaska School Activities Association to consider a change to its bylaws to exclude transgender girls from girls’ sports teams last year, but ASAA ultimately decided not to do so unless the state’s Education Department required the change. Now, it has.

At Thursday’s meeting, Strickland said the association plans to have two teams: One open to people who were assigned female at birth and one that is open to all students. The association would use birth certificates to check students’ sex assigned at birth if a question arose.

Nationally, the Biden administration proposed a federal rule that would leave discretion up to schools, but prohibits blanket bans on trans youth participation in sports. The U.S. Department of Education’s proposal would allow individual schools to bar transgender athletes from high school teams that match their gender identity if questions of fairness arise. The school decision would have to be done on a sport-by-sport basis that takes into account different age levels, the competitiveness of participation in the sport and minimizing the harm to transgender athletes.

Correction: Fowley’s rank was incorrect in the initial version of this story.


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Claire Stremple
Claire Stremple

Claire Stremple is a reporter based in Juneau, Alaska. She got her start in public radio, first at KHNS in Haines and then on the health and environment beat at KTOO in Juneau. Her focus for the Beacon is education and criminal and social justice.