In a 586-32 vote, public school superintendents in Texas have decided to implement a rule that would make birth certificates the official final word concerning a student-athlete's gender when playing high school sports, despite criticism from transgender advocates who have called the move exclusionary and outdated.
The move has generated mounting disapproval from critics who argue it is being done in an attempt to handicap the eligibility of transgender student-athletes concerning playing sports and school activities. Others suggest it was done in an effort to ban their participation altogether, writes Christina Kahrl for ESPN.
Meanwhile, transgender advocates said that the decision will force students to amend their birth certificates, a process which is both lengthy and expensive, in order to play. Chris Mosier, the founder of TransAthlete.com, said transgender athletes would not have an "equal opportunity to sports."
The vote, which occurred across the state, was brought on in October by the legislative council of the University Interscholastic League, the governing body of high school sports in Texas, to refer and recommend the proposed changes to individual districts.
While changes to the constitution require additional approval from the state education commissioner, a UIL spokeswoman said then-Commissioner Michael Williams approved the policy in November, and so it is final.
The policy had previously been informally enforced by the UIL.
However, some say the rule could go against both Title IX and the UIL's nondiscrimination policy, which states that member schools may not ban students from participating in sports based on race, color, religion, disability, national origin, or gender.
The new rule provides guidance on the last category and reads: "Gender shall be determined based on a student's birth certificate. In cases where a student's birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be submitted."
Texas is now one of just seven states that require a birth certificate, gender-reassignment surgery, or documentation of hormone therapy of high school athletes. The rules are more inclusive in states such as California and Florida.
"At the high school level, we should be encouraging participation for all students," Mosier said. "Texas school leaders have a responsibility to ensure that transgender athletes can participate in a way that is safe, comfortable and affirming of their identity."
At the same time, over a dozen other states have gone in a separate direction by adopting policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity rather than their birth certificates. A similar policy is in place with the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
While a mandatory policy for transgender athletes is not in place with the NCAA, it did put out a list of inclusion recommendations in 2011 saying the issue was "an emerging endeavor" and that "policies may need to be re-evaluated to ensure that they reflect the most current research-based information."
The amendment will go into effect on August 1, 2016. Other government documents are allowed to take the place of a birth certificate if that is unavailable.