The board governing high school sports in Alaska adopted a rule Monday that bans transgender girls from competing on girls’ teams.
The board of education passed the new regulation, and the association board followed suit. Legislation to the same effect has failed to pass in the Alaska Legislature during the past several sessions.
The step is one of several that Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has supported to limit the rights of transgender youth. Legislation he proposed that would have banned transgender students from using school bathrooms according to the gender with which they identify, and would have required schools to tell a child’s parents when the child asks to go by a different name or pronouns, also failed to gain significant support in the Legislature earlier this year.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, 23 states have adopted limits on transgender students’ participation in school sports consistent with their gender identity. In several of those states, the bans are blocked by a court orders. In Alaska, civil rights organizations have posited that the new sports regulation could be challenged in court.
Billy Strickland, executive director of ASAA, has said there is only one known instance of a transgender athlete competing at the championship level in Alaska. Nonetheless, proponents have said that without the policy adopted Monday, cisgender girls in Alaska could lose out on opportunities that will go to transgender girls.
Opponents of the policy, including the parents of transgender children, have said it will harm already marginalized transgender children, while seeking to solve a problem that has not been documented in the state.
The board made its decision after an hour-long executive decision. The bylaw change was adopted after the board tabled the proposal at an earlier meeting in April. A motion to table the rule change on Monday, brought by board member Tim Helvey, the principal at Eagle River High School, failed in a 5-3 vote.
An April legal memo, prepared by attorneys for ASAA, said that the Department of Education “does not have direct authority over ASAA’s operations” but does have the ability to regulate ASAA “by modifying the regulation that sets the terms on which Alaska school districts can allow their students to participate in ASAA.”
Strickland said Monday’s rule change was driven primarily by the state education department’s decision to promote the policy change. Without ASAA’s rule change, Strickland said he worried districts would be unable to participate in ASAA-run sports.
The board did not provide any instructions to schools on how to implement and enforce the policy, but Strickland said Monday that schools should verify the sex assigned at birth of athletes the same way they verify the athletes’ age.
Anchorage Assembly Chair Chris Constant has suggested that the new regulation could put ASAA’s bylaws at odds with the city’s non-discrimination clause, which makes it unlawful to discriminate in educational institutions on the basis of gender identity.
Administrators of the Anchorage School District, which makes up around 30% of Alaska students, did not immediately indicate whether they would withdraw from ASAA given the new rule. Alaska districts participate in ASAA-sanctioned sports voluntarily, allowing them to compete with teams from across the state.
“We are disappointed in ASAA’s decision today. Our hope was this matter would have been tabled. We will be reviewing the decision and the impacts it will have on our students,” district spokesperson MJ Thim said Monday in a written statement.
In a joint letter earlier this year, Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt and School Board President Margo Bellamy said that regardless of the policy toward transgender athletes, the district “will continue to provide a safe and welcoming school environment for all students.”