In a stunning reversal of policy, President Joe Biden has announced that he will allow bans on transgender girls and women athletes playing on sports teams of their gender. On the same day, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order blocking one such ban, meaning the Democratic president has taken a position on trans rights that is further right than the ultra-reactionary court that struck down abortion rights last year.
The White House recently revealed that while the Biden administration will continue to oppose blanket bans on trans girls and women athletes playing on sports teams of their gender, it is willing to allow individual schools and colleges to ban transgender athletes from participation and has proposed regulations for when they could do so.
According to a Department of Education news release, the proposal is a new interpretation of Title IX, the 1972 law that mandates equality between men’s and women’s sports programs, and “would establish that policies violate Title IX when they categorically ban transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity just because of who they are.” However, it also “recognizes that in some instances, particularly in competitive high school and college athletic environments, some schools may adopt policies that limit transgender students’ participation.”
The Biden administration has previously interpreted Title IX as including trans women in the category of women and trans men in the category of men, although it never added new language to the law to reflect that interpretation.
The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposed change, which will apply to all public K-12 schools as well as colleges, universities, and other institutions that receive federal funding. The news release does not say how such regulations might be imposed.
New rule called a ‘roadmap’ for bigots
In response, a group of 14 transgender and nonbinary lawmakers from various state legislatures sent the president a letter of protest, denouncing the proposal as a “roadmap” for bigots to deny trans people their rights.
“To put it plainly, there is no such thing as an acceptable ‘compromise’ that limits transgender Americans’ access to equal rights. When it comes to policy addressing trans athletes, our stance is this: trans athletes belong in sports. Full stop,” the lawmakers wrote. “Their inclusion should be welcomed, and the successes of trans athletes should be celebrated. When discussing questions around fairness in sports, rather than granting credence to false narratives around the supposed advantages of trans athletes, we should instead be asking why trans people are so deeply underrepresented in their participation, in their successes, and in athletic scholarships.”
Other Democrats have also spoken out against the proposal, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who called it a “disgrace” and said there is “absolutely no reason for the Biden admin to do this. It is indefensible and embarrassing.”
Emboldens the rightwing
Far-right lawmakers have already succeeded in imposing trans athlete bans in 20 states, which is just one part of a vast assault on the ability of trans people to exist in U.S. public life. These measures seek to deprive trans people of gender-affirming health care, access to public facilities, such as bathrooms, the ability to change their name and gender markers on official documents such as IDs, among other heinous restrictions. Biden’s proposal would only make those attacks easier, emboldening the far-right even more and opening the door to harmful misinformation about trans people that will only lead to further demonization.
Biden’s move is also a complete 180 degree turn from what he has claimed up to this point. Since taking office in 2021, Biden has told trans people in the United States that “your president has your back.” As recently as the Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, Biden said transgender people “deserve the same rights enjoyed by every American,” and boasted of his administration’s accomplishments in the field of LGBTQ rights, though meager. One is left to wonder how this can be true as Biden needlessly gives ground to far-right attacks by forces that also are white supremacist and believe in the genetic inferiority of women to men.
It’s not the first time Biden has compromised on LGBTQ rights. Last year, the president gave religiously-based private schools a special exemption from a Title IX-based rule linking funding for the National School Lunch Program to compliance with trans-inclusive policies on hiring, restroom use, dress codes and participation in sports teams.
Opposition to trans inclusion in Title IX protections has been one of the points around which far-right forces have rallied in recent years, arguing falsely that trans women are men and that their inclusion in women’s sports would constitute an unfair biological advantage. However, this has been proven time and again to be nothing but a canard for dividing trans women and cis women in order to strip both of their rights.
One of the chief villains in the anti-abortion crusade has been the Supreme Court, which outrageously deprived tens of millions of cisgender women and transgender men of their right to an abortion last year. In a stunning display of irony, the high court sided with trans women recently, placing Biden’s needless concession to the far-right into even starker relief.
The same day that Biden’s news hit the press, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a lower court’s injunction against West Virginia’s trans athlete ban. The media has interpreted this decision by the right-wing court as strategic, an unwillingness right now to take on another battle around social issues at a time when Republicans are being hurt at the polls by the abortion bans. The Biden administration’s decision, however, is bound to embolden right-wing forces on all levels.
Grassroots organizers, not the Democratic Party, defend trans lives
Trans people are facing down dangerous attacks by far-right politicians and their fascist allies, both of whom now dare to openly state their goals of totally eliminating trans people from U.S. public life. Biden and the Democratic Party have proven time and again that they are not up to the task of defending trans lives. As these attacks have swelled, it has been grassroots organizers who have rallied in our defense and put their lives on the line to stand up to the fascists. Where Democrats have passed pro-trans rights bills, such as Maryland’s recent passage of the Trans Health Equity Act that requires Medicaid to cover all transition-related care, it was because of the tireless efforts of such organizers.
Events make it clearer than ever that only the working class can mount the kind of militant defense that we need. The working class who can and must lead the charge in building a new world that prioritizes people’s needs, including the need for absolute equality for transgender people in all aspects of social life, rather than the private profits of a greedy few and the hateful bigotries the rich seek to foment that keep us fighting each other instead of them.