High School Sports

Alaska sports association decides against barring transgender girls from girls’ teams — for now

Alaska’s high school sports association decided Tuesday against immediately amending its bylaws to limit the participation of transgender girls in girls’ sports, but the state education department is considering a regulation change that could force the adoption of the policy within months.

The Alaska School Activities Association’s board of directors met Monday and Tuesday in Valdez, where its members considered a proposed bylaw change that would create two school sports divisions — one for students whose sex assigned at birth is female, and one for all other students — denying transgender girls the ability to play sports alongside cisgender girls.

The board announced at the conclusion of its two-day meeting that “it would be premature to change the ASAA bylaw” but that the state education department could adopt a change to regulations “that would have the practical effect of compelling ASAA to make a change to its bylaws in the future.”

“The board felt like until we know what the change in regulations would be, it’s really hard for us to adopt something that may or may not meet that requirement,” said Billy Strickland, executive director of the Alaska School Activities Association.

Both the state education department and the sports association decided to consider changing regulations governing transgender athletes’ participation in school sports because of a non-binding resolution adopted by the governor-appointed state board of education, without public input.

Education department spokesperson Laurel Shoop said in an email Tuesday that the department “is looking at amending an existing regulation … to address the State Board of Education’s resolution.” Shoop said the resolution “prompted the regulation change” and the process to amend the regulation began in the education department last week.

[Dunleavy’s ‘parental rights’ bill clears first committee hurdle with major changes]


The resolution was adopted unanimously in March by the state education board in a surprise move, after it was added unexpectedly to the board’s agenda in the final day of a three-day meeting, and without allowing the public the opportunity to comment on it.

The resolution came after a failed effort last year by Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes to pass a bill that would have limited the participation of transgender athletes in school sports according to the gender with which they identify. This year, similar bills have been introduced but have not advanced.

In promoting the regulation change, the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is wading into a nationwide push by conservative lawmakers to limit the participation of transgender athletes in school sports, among other restrictions on transgender kids pushed by Republicans. It is countered by an effort from Democratic President Joe Biden to forbid outright bans on transgender athletes.

The Alaska education board’s resolution says that state education regulations should “1. Provide a girls’ division with participation based on a student’s sex at birth, and 2. Provide a division for students who identify with either sex or gender; and 3. Provide a process for appeal for all students.”

Once they’re drafted, the education department’s proposed regulations would go to the State Board of Education to vote on whether to advance them to a public comment period. At the conclusion of the public comment period, it would be up to the state education board to decide whether to adopt the regulation change or reject it.

Chair of the state education board James Fields did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday. Fields, who is up for re-confirmation by the Legislature this year, faced criticism from some lawmakers earlier this year for advancing the non-binding resolution on transgender athletes without first soliciting public comment.

The Alaska School Activities Association’s proposed bylaw change was met with support from the Christian conservative Alaska Family Council and some conservative lawmakers, but opposition from LGBTQ+ advocates and several elected officials.

Opponents argued that the change would target already-vulnerable transgender and gender-nonconforming children, potentially violating state law and the Alaska Constitution in the process. Proponents said the change was needed to ensure that cisgender girls are not forced to compete against transgender girls who have the unfair advantage of having gone through male puberty.

[Banishment of transgender Montana lawmaker spotlights rise of GOP far-right caucuses]

When asked, Strickland has said he is only familiar with one transgender athlete competing in school sports during his tenure. The association’s current policy allows districts to make their own decisions on student participation. Only one district in Alaska — the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District — bans the participation of transgender students in school sports according to the gender with which they identify.

Anchorage Assembly Chair Christopher Constant and Assembly member Felix Rivera said in a letter that if the association were to change its bylaws to limit the participation of transgender girls in girls’ sports, the Anchorage School District may be forced to cease participation in the association’s sanctioned activities or risk violating municipal code, which has a non-discrimination ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sex and gender, among other protected classes. Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat, said a blanket regulation affecting transgender students could violate state law or the constitution.

But the state education department could force the association and school districts to change the way transgender and gender-nonconforming students participate in school sports by requiring school districts to adopt certain policies as a pre-condition for joining ASAA, which governs all high school sports in the state.

The regulation cited by the department as under consideration for change lays out “a procedure that enables school districts to promote and govern interscholastic activities effectively, economically, and fairly, while keeping those activities in their proper perspective educationally.” Proponents of the change said that the word “fairly” is the one that could be interpreted to require a separate sports division for students assigned female at birth.

“If DEED does adopt regulations adding new conditions for participation in activities associations by public schools and ASAA does not meet the new regulatory requirements, then school districts would no longer be able to support and participate in ASAA. Without the participation and support of public schools, ASAA would likely cease to be viable or relevant,” the association said in a press release.

Daily News reporter Sean Maguire contributed from Juneau.

• • •

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.