Top Wyoming elected officials are pushing back on President Joe Biden’s rule on transgender athletics that would supersede state laws against biological males participating in girls’ sports.
Both Gov. Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder have signed letters opposing the recently proposed rule.
Degenfelder signed a letter with the heads of education from three other states Monday, while Gordon signed with 24 other Republican governors a similar letter last Friday requesting the rule proposal be withdrawn or delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court can address several pending cases on the issue.
Under Title IX
The United States Department of Education’s recent Title IX proposal would affect transgender people who want to participate in K-12 and collegiate athletics and would prohibit schools from "categorically" banning transgender students from competing on athletic teams that are consistent with their gender identities.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools or other education programs that receive money from the federal government.
If enacted, the rule change would at least hold up a law passed during the latest Wyoming legislative session prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in Wyoming.
Both letters were addressed to the U.S. Department of Education.
The issue of transgender athletics has become a heated debate within the ongoing culture wars across the United States. Those who oppose the Biden rule say barring transgender athletes is necessary to protect fairness in sports. Others believe that blocking those athletes in any form is part of a larger assault on the civil liberties of transgender people.
What It Says
The new rule would offer flexibility to K-12 schools and universities to limit the participation of transgender students if it is determined their presence would undermine "fairness in competition" or potentially lead to sports-related injuries.
The Biden administration wants to require public schools, colleges and universities to have sport-specific criteria if an institution is applying sex-related rules that would limit or deny a transgender student’s ability to participate on a team consistent with their gender identity.
Florida Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. says in Monday’s letter that the actual parameters of the proposed regulation are so constrained that it serves as a “de facto” prohibition on using sex-based criteria to determine eligibility.
In the proposed rule, the federal government says, “there would be few, if any, sex-related eligibility criteria applicable to students in elementary school that could comply with the proposed regulation.”
Further, the U.S. Department of Education finds that criteria assuming all transgender girls and women possess an unfair physical advantage over girls and women is a generalization that would not comply with the Department’s proposed regulation.
The rule change, which claims to promote equal athletic opportunity, would give the Department of Education the ability to investigate and potentially withhold federal money from schools that violate it.
“The proposed regulation is a functional ban on states wishing to prevent biological males from competing on women’s sport teams,” Monday’s letter from the education officials reads.
A 2022 poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that at least 55% of Americans do not support transgender women and girls competing with other women and girls at professional, college and high school levels of athletics.
Undercuts Title IX
Monday’s letter argues that determining biological males to have physical advantages over biological females is not an “overly broad generalization,” an argument it says defeats the grounding purpose of Title IX.
Degenfelder and the other writers claim that by preventing sex-based criteria, it makes it easier for biological males to play against females and undermine fair competition.
“We recognize that all children, teens and young adults are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we strive daily to create and maintain educational systems where all students can thrive,” the letter reads. “Our systems proudly offer robust educational and competitive athletic opportunities for all our students.”
A 2022 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study found that women on average have less physical strength and testosterone than men.
Many transgender girls and women use testosterone blockers to assist with their transitions, a point that has been used by those who support their participating in girls and women's sports.
But a study from The Journal of Sports Medicine found that muscle mass was only “trivially affected” by those taking testosterone suppressants.
Degenfelder supported Senate File 133 during the 2023 Wyoming Legislature, a bill that passed into law prohibiting transgender girls from competing in girls sports in Wyoming.
During the Wyoming Republican Party’s Central Committee meeting May 6, Degenfelder called the proposed federal Title IX rule a “gross federal overreach.”
“My No. 1 priority is protecting my girls, making sure that they are safe, and they have access to opportunities,” she said.
Degenfelder, a former rugby player and women’s rugby coach at the University of Wyoming, said in a Monday press release she is a champion for women’s sports. Although SF 133 only applies to girls school sports in grades seven through 12 in Wyoming, the proposed Biden rule would apply to college athletics as well.
“As a female collegiate athlete and coach, I am a champion for safe and fair women’s sports and that means keeping those sports to biological women,” Degenfelder said in a Monday press release. “I will always push back against the federal government encroaching on our ability to deal with issues in a way that works best for Wyoming.”
State Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, the sponsor of SF 133, said she’s waiting to see what happens with Biden’s proposed change but won’t rule out the possibility of bringing new legislation on this issue during next year’s session.
“I’m sitting back and looking at the possibilities,” she said.
The Evanston senator said Wyoming “is still in good shape” if the Biden rule goes into effect, as long as the “plan B” mechanism of her law is allowed by the federal government.
Schuler’s backup plan is an alternate provision built into the law that becomes effective if a court blocks or overrules the state ban.
In that event, the Wyoming High School Activities Association is to appoint a state-level independent board to review transgender athlete appeals on a case-by-case basis.
The new Biden rule purports to put more decision-making into the hands of schools to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis, but Schuler said this is exactly what she was trying to avoid when crafting her legislation.
Schuler said she’s not opposed to a prohibition on blanket transgender bans as long as local forces don’t have to make rulings on athlete eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
“I usually like local control, but this is such a volatile and important issue, it’s really difficult for small towns and school districts to decide on,” she said. “You need that uniformity with a statewide commission.”
The letters Degenfelder and Gordon signed were two of about 132,000 comments submitted on the proposed rule.
Some of the commenters took an opposite perspective and argued that the rule doesn’t go far enough to protect transgender women who want to participate in sports. LGBTQ advocacy groups say the rule would allow discrimination against transgender students.
Gordon expressed some discontent with SF 133 when he let it pass into law in March without his signature, saying that it would open Wyoming up to lawsuits on questions of equal protection and called the outright ban “draconian” and “discriminatory.”
The letter he signed last week takes a starkly different stance on the issue, saying the proposed rule impedes on states’ ability to enforce their laws and policies as written and would “turn the purpose of Title IX on its head and threaten the many achievements of women in athletics.”
It also says the rule would “coerce compliance with an uncertain, fluid, and completely subjective standard that is based on a highly politicized gender ideology.”
The governors’ letter argues that Biden does not have the power to perform “sweeping rewrites” of Title IX.
The U.S. Department of Education is allowed to make administrative rule changes, but those rule changes cannot conflict with existing federal law.
Contact Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.