Sen. Sullivan signs letter with other Republicans denouncing proposed federal protections for transgender athletes

WASHINGTON — In a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Education, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan joined Republican colleagues in calling to restrict transgender students’ participation in sports.

Sullivan is one of 13 Republican senators and 21 representatives to sign onto the letter condemning the Biden administration’s proposed changes to Title IX, the law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded K-12 schools and colleges. The proposal would expand protections for LGBTQ and pregnant students, among other provisions.

Sullivan said that the Education Department’s proposed rule would create inequities in women’s athletics.

“I remain committed to ensuring every student has a safe and respectful environment that provides them the ability to reach their full potential,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Part of that commitment means preserving the ability for female athletes to engage in competitive sports that do not create implicit disadvantages before competition even begins.”

Many Republican politicians, including former President Donald Trump, have been calling to restrict transgender students’ use of bathrooms and participation on sports teams that match their gender identity. In March, the Alaska state Senate considered a Republican-led bill to limit transgender students in athletics. This month, Mat-Su school officials banned transgender students from using bathrooms and locker rooms aligning with their gender identity.

In recent years, a few transgender women have sparked headlines for top performances in sports. However, many other transgender female athletes compete without overshadowing their cisgender peers.

The Republicans’ letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona expressed “grave concern” with the Title IX proposal, citing worries that the rule expands the definition of sex discrimination to include sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The lawmakers argued that widening the scope of sex discrimination would unfairly target female athletes.


The Republicans’ letter also criticized part of the Title IX proposal that would extend protections to those who have terminated a pregnancy, which the letter said promotes the Biden administration’s “pro-abortion agenda.”

Congressional Democrats have welcomed the proposal, and in a letter applauded the Department of Education for broadening the definition of sex discrimination in Title IX.

“We hope the explicit inclusion of LGBTQIA+ students in the Department’s articulation of Title IX’s protections will help address the recent onslaught of discriminatory legislative attacks on transgender and nonbinary students,” the letter said.

Over his nearly eight years in the Senate, policies affecting the LGBTQ community have not been at the top of Sullivan’s legislative priority list. In 2017, Alaska Public Media reported Sullivan defended gay and transgender members’ ability to serve in the military. However, in 2014, Sullivan said that he opposed gay marriage, and did not directly respond to a question from the Daily News asking if he has changed his mind.

“In most circumstances, I’ve believed that social issues such as these are better managed by the people and their respective state and local governments,” he said in a statement.

“However, Title IX is a longstanding federal regulation and the Biden administration’s latest interpretation of Title IX frankly has nothing to do with the federal law and regulation’s original intent: providing women with equal opportunities in federally-funded educational programs and activities,” Sullivan said.

The rest of the Alaska delegation, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, have not taken a clear position on transgender students in sports.

Karina Borger, a spokesperson for Murkowski, said the senator’s office first learned of the Republicans’ letter from news reports.

Borger said, “Sen. Murkowski understands the complexity of this issue and has said there should not be fundamental inequalities in women’s sports.”

Peltola did not respond to questions about if she supports transgender student athletes participating in sports teams that match their gender identity. She said in a Q&A with the Daily News published in August that she “needed to better acquaint” herself with the issue, which she called “complicated.”

“My starting point is that sports should be fair for all students, and we must protect the rights of all students – especially those that are already subject to significant discrimination,” she said. “I look forward to learning more, and focusing on the many other pressing challenges the U.S. Congress is facing.”

Peltola has expressed support for the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The 60-day public comment period for the Title IX rule ended Sept. 12 and yielded over 200,000 comments, including the letter from Republicans and another from The Education Department will consider the comments before releasing a final decision on Title IX regulations.

Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at rrogerson@adn.com.