The Alaska Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve a ban on transgender athletes participating in girls’ high school sports. The change will apply to all public high schools in the state competing under the Alaska School Activities Association.
Several board members spoke in favor of the regulation, citing safety concerns and questioning the fairness of girls competing against other athletes who were not assigned the female gender at birth.
“I’m not convinced that there isn’t a potential safety issue, or I am convinced there is a physiological difference for sure,” said board member Jeff Erickson. “I think there’s some unfairness. I think the federal law at present protects women’s sports.”
The regulation says that schools that participate in the Alaska School Activities Association — the governing body for high school sports — must limit participation on high school athletic teams to “females who were assigned female at birth.”
Board Chair James Fields said that an athlete who identifies as intersex or athletes who transitioned genders before puberty may be able to receive a waiver allowing them to participate on sports teams that match their gender identity after going through an appeal process.
The board did not take public comment during Thursday’s special meeting, and Student Advisor Felix Myers was the only board member who spoke in opposition to the proposed changes. Myers said he felt like the regulation was a distraction.
“This has not been an issue that’s occurred. It doesn’t seem like this is a problem that we need to fix currently,” he said.
Myers said the board should refocus its priorities to train coaches to recognize the signs of eating disorders that plague young athletes. He was the only board member to vote against the regulation, and military advisor Lt. Col. James Fowley abstained from voting, but neither of their advisory votes counted toward the final tally.
According to ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland, Native Youth Olympics and downhill skiing are the only two sports in Alaska high school athletics that are not sanctioned by ASAA, and would not be subject to the regulation.
The board passed a resolution in support of the change in March, and put the changes up for public comment in June. At a July meeting, the board decided to postpone action on the proposed regulations to answer additional questions posed in the more than 1,400 pages of written testimony submitted by members of the public.
The Mat-Su school district had the only trans ban in effect in Alaska prior to the board’s vote.
In a strongly worded statement emailed after the vote Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt and School Board Chair Margo Bellamy asked why the state board would consider this issue a priority and offered support for all students.
“Regardless of today’s decision, ASD will continue to provide a safe and welcoming school environment for all students. We will continue to ensure an inclusive, nurturing, and respectful school experience for our diverse community,” the joint statement said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a response from the Anchorage School District.