Minnesota high school sports league approves transgender athlete policy

Minnesota State High School League legal counsel, Kevin Beck, second from left, and Patrick Kelly, left, confer during a meeting at the headquarters of the Minnesota State High School League in Brooklyn Center, Minn. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. Leila Navidi, AP

Minnesota State High School League legal counsel, Kevin Beck, second from left, and Patrick Kelly, left, confer during a meeting at the headquarters of the Minnesota State High School League in Brooklyn Center, Minn. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. Leila Navidi, AP

Minnesota State High School League legal counsel, Kevin Beck, second from left, and Patrick Kelly, left, confer during a meeting at the headquarters of the Minnesota State High School League in Brooklyn Center, Minn. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014.

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — Minnesota’s high school sports league passed a set of guidelines for transgender student-athletes on Thursday, bringing months of fevered debate to a close.

Dozens of supporters and proponents packed the Minnesota Sports High School League’s boardroom, hoping for one last chance to sway members with signs, buttons and speeches about how the rules would give students a sense of acceptance or could cost them a spot on their high school volleyball team.

 The policy, which will take effect next school year, allows transgender athletes to pick the team that fits with their gender identity and provides an appeal process for students whose schools turn down their request.

The new process for establishing eligibility will include written statements from a student’s parents or guardians and health care professionals regarding the student’s “consistent or sincerely held gender-related identity.”

A school’s activities director will make the eligibility decision, with appeals heard by an independent hearing officer.

Minnesota joins 32 other states that have some guidelines for transgender students participating in high school sports, according to the MSHSL.

Supporters of the measure celebrated its passage as an important step toward making transgender students more comfortable and accepted in school — a task that’s harder when you have to keep living part of your life as a gender you don’t identify with, Drew Ahl said.

“It’s very difficult to live in both worlds. It messes with your head,” said Ahl, 34, who was born as a girl.

The policy sparked an avalanche of public input, delaying a vote scheduled for October and spawning full-page ads from opposing groups that proclaimed the guidelines would mean “the end of girls’ sports.”

Opponents again urged the board Thursday to delay or scrap those guidelines, citing concerns about giving transgender athletes an unfair advantage on girls’ teams and worries over transgender students in locker rooms. Several Republican lawmakers asked the board to let the Legislature handle the issue.

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Ed Kashmarek yelled out it was “a huge mistake.” Kashmarek, who wouldn’t say where he lives, doesn’t have kids, but felt compelled to take a stand against policies regarding what he called “sexual disorders.”

“Human beings do not have the right to choose their gender,” Kashmaerk said after the meeting.

The MSHSL wrestled with the policy for months, going through nearly 10 drafts and hours of public comment.

Rep. Barb Yarusso, a Shoreview Democrat who has a transgender son, deflected the criticism that the MSHSL was moving too fast. She said the policy change would make transgender students feel welcome and more comfortable in their own skin.

“It’s a small number of kids that you have an opportunity to do a big thing for,” she said.

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