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Virginia high school sports league rejects GOP Gov Youngkin's transgender athlete policy

The league allows transgender high school students to compete against students with the same gender identity, if they meet certain criteria.

Published: July 27, 2023 3:31pm

The Virginia High School League, which oversees most of the state’s high school sports, says it has no immediate plans to change policies governing transgender athletes, despite Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new guidelines that call for competition to be among those of the same biological sex. 

Youngkin’s model policies state student-athletes be grouped as such, as opposed to by gender identity, with “reasonable modifications” granted only to the extent required by law.

The league’s executive director, John “Billy” Haun recommend Monday to school leaders keeping in place the policies, which allow transgender athletes to participate on teams that match their gender identity, under certain conditions.

He said, however, the league "certainly will respect the decision of any school division as they address their policies and will continue to review this matter as we move forward and the new school year begins.”

The current policy allows certain considerations for trans athletes to compete against athletes with the same gender identity.

Athletes who have undergone sex reassignment before puberty or who are undergoing hormone therapy “in a verifiable manner and for a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages,” will be given these considerations.

Thirty-eight transgender athletes filed appeals to participate under the policy from 2014 through the 2022-2023 school year, with 34 granted, according to the league.

The difference between the league’s stance and the Youngkin administration’s policies will likely lead to confusion for school staff and parents, says Breanna Diaz, policy and legislative counsel for the ACLU of Virginia.

School boards and superintendents across the state were beginning to process and respond to Youngkin’s policies, which encompass more than just athletics and were finalized last week.

The administration’s guidelines also address the use of bathrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.

It will take time for the school boards and superintendents to process the policies, especially since some school boards have a summer break, said Scott Brabrand, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.

School leaders in some Democrat-leaning parts of the state have said they will not adhere to the Youngkin administration’s guidance. Republican-leaning areas similarly declined to adopt the model polices of preceding GOP. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the same exact reaction from every school district,” said Scott Brabrand, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, whose organization has not taken a formal position on the matter.

“The Virginia Department of Education has fulfilled its responsibility to develop the model policies, school boards are expected to follow the law,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said Wednesday.

Porter said that under the 2020 law directing the Department of Education to create model policies, the VHSL “does not have a role.”

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