Basketball players face off at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at for a basketball game in December 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Basketball players face off at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at for a basketball game in December 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Juneau city, school district to remain neutral on proposed statewide transgender sports ban

Local leaders share personal stances ahead of decision slated for late July.

The City and Borough of Juneau and Juneau School District Board of Education are unlikely to join other districts and municipalities across the state beginning to emerge with varying formal stances on the proposed statewide ban that seeks to separate transgender girls from participating in girls high school sports in Alaska.

The ban is currently being considered by the Alaska State Board of Education, which is seeking public comment on the proposed regulation until July 21 and will open the floor for public testimony during the board’s scheduled July 26 hearing on the issue. Following the testimony, the board has the option to adopt, amend or cancel the proposed regulation.

If adopted, the new regulation as it stands would prohibit transgender girls from participating in girls-specific sports teams. However, transgender boys would be allowed to participate on either girls or boys teams. The enforcement of the regulation would be administered by the Alaska School Activities Association.

On Tuesday it was reported the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voiced support for the separation of transgender and cisgender girls in high school sports, and during a meeting passed a resolution 6-2 supporting the regulation being considered by the Alaska State Board of Education. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School Board became the first in Alaska to pass a transgender sports ban in June of 2022.

According to Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt, “We would not wade into a school district issue,” he said, regarding if city administrators or Assembly members are considering a resolution stating the municipality’s stance on the topic.

“Municipalities’ role in education is providing funding — policy issues on school operations are not an area we’re involved in,” he said, noting he was not aware of any Assembly members who have spoken publicly about the topic or is considering taking any action.

“I don’t think anybody is talking about it, but I will say the official municipal policy is ‘you don’t discriminate — period,’” he said. “I don’t think CBJ would get involved.”

Juneau Board of Education President Deedie Sorensen and Vice President Emil Mackey said Thursday they also do not see the Juneau school board taking a formal stance on the issue prior to the vote by the state board in late July.

“Our job is to promote the well-being of all of our students — it’s not our job to be making things more difficult for them,” Sorensen said.

Mackey said it is his personal stance that he is against the regulation currently being proposed, but noted, “I am fairly confident that the feeling of the board members collectively is that we support LGBT rights and all human rights, and philosophically want to work toward positive solutions for everybody in the community.”

“If we had a student that was negatively affected by that policy I would support any means necessary to defend the civil rights of that student to participate in those activities, as I would in the other students,” he said. “I am saddened to see individuals that champion freedom force the gender identity of the state onto an individual rather than have the individual make that determination based upon their own feelings, development and human rights.”

Mackey said he does think there should be further discussions about how “emerging legal and social definitions of gender affect competition” but argued, “maintaining a binary definition in a nonbinary world is not a long-term solution.” He said that he isn’t sure what is a long-term solution to the issue.

Chad Bentz, the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at activities director, said in an interview in June his personal stance on the topic is to promote “as much participation as possible for all students, whatever they identify, I am always in favor of having options for all students,” he said, but noted that he thinks there needs to be a separation when it comes to “biological males” attempting to compete in girls specific sports.

“I think that if someone is identified as a male at birth, and they want to participate in a sport that is specific for girls, I think that they need another option to accommodate that, and not participate with the girls,” he said. “If a guy is born a male, they should not be able to compete in female-specific sports — that’s my personal belief.”

Bentz, who is also a physical education teacher and JDHS baseball coach, said he does not have an issue with biological females participating in boys-specific sports.

“If a female wants to compete with males, by all means, that is more than fine — I have zero issues with that,” he said, emphasizing that his main stance on the topic was that “as long as there are options available for everyone, then that’s what I’m for.”

He said he thinks some type of regulation or decision on the issue needs to be put in place, as though during his time in his position with the district “it just hasn’t come up very often,” but that doesn’t mean it won’t show up increasingly in the future.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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