Girls teams face off on the twin courts of the main gym at Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School during the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza on Oct. 15, 2022. A proposal being considered by the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development to ban transgender females from participating in girls high school sports could take effect before this year’s fall sports season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Girls teams face off on the twin courts of the main gym at Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School during the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza on Oct. 15, 2022. A proposal being considered by the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development to ban transgender females from participating in girls high school sports could take effect before this year’s fall sports season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Public comment open for statewide transgender sports ban

Proposal barring transgender girls from girls’ high school sports teams to be reconsidered July 26

Public comments on a proposal banning transgender females from participating in girls high school sports are being accepted for the next seven weeks by the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development, which on Thursday opted for the comment period before considering the regulations at its next meeting.

The board previously indicated it supports such a ban in March when it passed a surprise resolution asking the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to implement the policy. The department subsequently submitted the proposed regulation to the education board in time for its meeting Thursday in Soldotna.

The proposed regulation states “a school or school district may join the Alaska School Activities Association Inc. (ASAA), or a similar association, as long as it administers interscholastic activities in a manner that ensures fairness and safety in competition by providing a girls’ divisions with participation based on a student’s sex at birth; providing a division for students who identify with either sex or gender; and providing a process for appeal for all students.”

The board could potentially vote on the new regulation at its next scheduled meeting July 26. If enacted immediately, it could be in place before the new school year begins.

However, the change is pending Department of Law review and approval, according to Heidi Teshner, acting commissioner of the state’s education department. Some state legal officials said the policy may conflict with a proposal by President Joe Biden to make transgender sports bans illegal, although numerous other states — including Florida, Montana and Alabama — have already enacted similar bans.

Teshner, in a memo to the board, recommended the comment period instead of other considered options including seeking more information and amending the proposal before seeking public comment.

The Alaska Legislature has unsuccessfully attempted to pass bills enacting similar bans during the past three sessions, and the issue also surfaced during this year’s session with a broader bill imposing strict limits on sex and gender references for all public school matters. That bill appears to have little chance of passage next year after stalling this year, but two state lawmakers who were prominently on opposite sides of the debate this session expressed strong opinions about the school board’s proposed ban.

Concerns about both harmful impacts on youths and legal issues involving the proposed ban were expressed by state Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee. In a letter to the education board, she stated that the ban “will put many of our state school districts into the cultural war crosshairs by asking schools to wade into open defiance of local municipal non-discrimination ordinances by directly engaging in discrimination against trans athletes.”

“I am starting to wonder who you are trying to protect,” Tobin wrote. “Hundreds of young people have testified in legislative hearings that they want their trans classmates to play alongside them. Why are you so willing to ignore our state’s robust legislative process in this matter? Sports and other activities promote teamwork, sportsmanship and fun. Demonizing people because of their gender identity, or even your perception of their gender, makes them feel unwanted and not valued.”

Tobin also raised legal questions, such as how officials plan to determine a student’s gender while respecting the state constitution’s right to privacy clause. She noted Alaska law also allows official documents such as birth certificates to be corrected or amended.

“By continuing to pursue this regulatory change, you are putting our already struggling school districts in danger of legal action that could harm public school systems across Alaska,” she wrote.

Expressing support for the ban was state Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican who co-chairs the House Education Committee. In her letter to the board, she asserts allowing transgender female to participate in girls sports “takes a level playing field, which women fought so hard to achieve, and reduces women to finishing second, yet again.”

“As a former Junior Olympic track and field athlete, I am appalled and outraged at the thought that were I an athlete today, I may never have had the opportunity to qualify because my adolescent female body could not compete against the strength and size of a biological male,” she wrote. “They are bigger, faster and stronger; that’s a scientific fact.”

Similar to Tobin, Allard asked “who are you going to protect?” Echoing comments she made during the legislative session aboard broader gender-related proposals, she denounced what she called efforts to “sexualize” children at an early age.

“They are being indoctrinated and used like pawns in a politically charged cultural war and it’s hurting all of them,” she wrote. “I believe any adult allowing children to go through transition should be charged with child abuse.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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